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Quick Soda Bread (milkekh)

This simple bread takes 5 minutes to put together and half an hour to bake -- no rising or special equipment

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of "white whole wheat" flour (a milder version of whole wheat than the usual red whole wheat). The recipe also works with other flours, but you may need to adjust the liquid. Substituting about half corn meal makes something between corn bread and mamaligia. Using white cake flour or part white cake and part regular red whole wheat makes it closer to an Irish soda bread.
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda.
  • 2 Tablespoons caraway or black caraway or poppy seeds.
  • 1/4 small onion, chopped fine (optional).
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, thinned yogurt or kefir or sour cream should work too. The soda needs some acid to start working, so if you substitute fresh milk, you should add some lemon juice or vinegar or use baking POWDER in addition to the soda. Dark beer, without seeds or onions, might work for a pareve version.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 450°. If you have a cast iron skillet or dutch oven, preheat it as well (with the top, for the dutch oven) -- baking the bread in hot cast iron will make the crust crispier. No need to oil the skillet or dutch oven.
  • Sift together flour, salt and soda. Whisk in seeds until nicely mixed.
  • Mix in onions if using them.
  • Gradually pour in buttermilk, stirring just enough to moisten all the flour. The soda starts working as soon as it gets wet, so you are aiming to have no more than a few minutes from when you add the buttermilk until you bake. The dough should be shaggy and sticky.
  • If you going to bake in a covered dutch oven, you can skip the next two steps -- just dump the mixed dough into the hot pot.
  • Knead (squish it all together, flatten, fold in half, rotate, fold again, and keep rotating and folding) just until it holds together in a consistent mass -- not more than 15-30 seconds. Unlike yeast breads, with soda bread the key is to mix just enough, but no more. Too little and your bread will crumble; too much and it will not rise.
  • Shape into a round flat loaf about 2 inches high. Score the top with three or four straight, deep cuts from edge to edge, making an asterix or a peace sign like the arches of the Prague altneu shul. Deep means half way through the loaf.
  • Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place the loaf in it, or put the loaf on a baking sheet. Be gentle -- you don't want to break the bubbles. If you are using a dutch oven, put the top on.
  • Bake at 450° for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350°, remove the top of the dutch oven if you used it, and bake 15 more minutes. Bread is done when it is brown and crusty on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Using only whole wheat flour as I do, it will not rise much; if you prefer a lighter or higher bread, substitute white flour for some or all of the whole wheat.
  • Cool on a rack. It's yummy while still hot but may give you a stomach ache if you eat too much.
  • Eat thick slices with lots of butter and jam or labneh and olive oil, or dipped in bean soup or vegetarian cholent. Like all soda breads, it does not keep well; by tomorrow or the day after at the latest, it'll only be good for toast.

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