Category Archives: food & recipes

Scorched almond and chocolate brownies (wheat or gluten free)


So here I am again, posting a random recipe after a long time away. I’ve been thinking about this blog a lot recently, trying to work out what I would do about it. Then yesterday I made these awesome brownies and I really didn’t want to lose the recipe, so the obvious thing was to post it here. I’ve found this site a really useful archive generally, and so I’ve decided that I’m going to continue breaking all the rules – I won’t post daily, or weekly, or even regularly. I won’t focus on a particular topic or theme and I won’t make any promises about keeping this up! In short I’ve decided that I want to keep this blog around, but as I really don’t have the time to do much blogging, I’ll just be happy with doing the little bits that I can and keeping the site going as a personal archive. If no one reads it, well, I don’t care!

So, I started with this recipe for these brownies, but I took it in a different direction by adding roasted almonds and my favourite Amaretto liqueur. They ended up tasting like a cake version of scorched almonds (not sure if that is going to translate out of Australia, but essentially scorched almonds are just chocolate coated roasted almonds). In other words, delicious!

I made these with 1/2 cup rice flour and 1/2 cup rye flour, making them wheat free. If you want gluten free replace the rye flour with a gluten-free flour and make sure your other ingredients (especially the cocoa and baking powder) are also gluten free.

Almond and Chocolate Brownies

handful whole almonds (how precise am I!)
150g butter
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
scant 1/4 teaspoon vanilla concentrate (or equivalent of vanilla essence)
2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
To make
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put the almonds on a baking tray and add to the oven while it is heating, roast until they are slightly fragrant and the skins have turned a deeper brown. If you’re not sure if they are done eat one! The inside should have become slightly darker. Once they are done remove from oven and allow to cool a bit, then chop roughly (so each kernel is in thirds-ish).
Butter a 20 x 30cm tin and line with baking paper.
Melt the butter and leave to cool.
Sift the flours, baking powder and cocoa into a large bowl. Add the sugars and mix gently. Make a well in the centre. Add the eggs, vanilla and Amaretto to the cooled melted butter and mix so the eggs are lightly beaten. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix with a metal spoon until just combined. Add the chopped almonds and stir through.
Pour the batter into the tray, spread out evenly and then bake for 15-20 minutes (until a skewer comes out clean).

choc-chip banana bread, by way of peace offering

Hi there, so long time no see. Sorry about that, one of those life zooming off in a different direction moments. Mostly because of this:

That’s my husband’s arm – it’s sort of dominated our lives for the last two months – from the moment he horribly injured it at a judo competition. Anyway he’s doing a lot better now, as of yesterday he doesn’t have to wear that brace any more. He’s also been able to start physiotherapy and it’s amazing how quickly a young fit person can heal, not to mention what wonders surgeons can perform. Andrew was so lucky in the vascular, plastic and orthopaedic surgeons who treated him, I can’t get over how amazing surgeons are. They fix people who are broken, it’s jaw dropping when you think about it.

Anyway I can’t really say any more about all that without straying into the gory detail. Other exciting, busy things have also been happening over the last two months. I submitted my research proposal for my Masters and it has been approved! I also attended an incredibly inspiring conference in Canberra, the inaugural conference of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities. It was full on, and I should really write a whole series of posts about it. If I manage to carve some time out of my current schedule I’ll do just that. Anyway I was involved in a panel at the conference and there’s a photo here for anyone interested (I’m on the far left – but as I’m sure only family and friends will look I probably don’t need to say that!)

But really I should get on to the banana bread, because that’s why you’re here right. I made this the other day and quickly snapped a photo for facebook, before being reminded that I was meant to give people recipes not just photos (thanks Anna!) This is my slightly adjusted version of the banana bread from Essential Baking, published by Murdoch Books. It’s really quick, absolutely delicious, and stays fresh for a good five days or so. As I mention below, I like to use half plain wheat flour and half light rye flour, but another mix or just plain old plain flour would be fine.

Choc-chip banana bread

Apologies about the rubbish photo, snapped on my phone with no intention of posting to here originally!


250g plain flour (I prefer a half-half mix of wheat and rye)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
150g unsalted butter, softened
160g soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
100g-ish dark chocolate chips

To make

Preheat the oven to 180 centigrade. Grease and line a 13 x 23cm loaf tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt. In a separate bowl cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg gradually, beating thoroughly after each addition. Mix in the banana and chocolate chips. Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients and then mix until smooth.

Get the mixture into the tin and bake until done (the book says 35-45 minutes, mine took a good 50, anyway test with a skewer). Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.


Tiramisu / lamington-misu

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the odd but great things that has happened to me over the last year or so is that I’ve started liking almost all of the foods that I used to dislike and avoid. One of the most significant epiphanies was on eating my Uncle Mario’s superlative tiramisu. I not only started liking this dessert, I became positively obsessed with it.

So for my last birthday, spent in Italy, I asked Mario if he would make a tiramisu for me. In the end he not only made it, but taught me how it is done – such a perfect birthday present for someone like me!

Me receiving wisdom

The really genius part of this tiramisu recipe is the zabaglione. Cooking the egg yolks makes the cream so much more significant somehow: the flavour is much more complex and the texture much lighter. Other non-negotiables for this recipe are good coffee (preferably espresso) and high-quality savoiardi. The soft savoiardi that Mario uses were a revelation and I’ve been able to track some down here down under.

The final part of my story for today is set in Australia, because yesterday was Australia Day, which means compulsory barbequing and eating in this part of the world. When I was thinking about what to take to the event we went to I was split between making a tiramisu and the urge to do something with an Australian theme. I eventually had my second epiphany associated with this dessert and decided to make a lamington-misu.


This was a fairly straight variation on the main recipe, using lamington fingers instead of savoiardi and skipping the cocoa layers (as the lamingtons already have chocolate icing). It was good fun, tasted good and was a great gimmick for our national day, but I have to say the classic beats my experimental version every day!

Tiramisu – the superlative classic version as taught by Mario

120g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons Marsala or Amaretto
500g Mascarpone
500ml-ish fresh coffee, sweetened to taste
Cocoa (pure, no sugar)
400g-ish Savoiardi biscuits (weight needed will depend on the size of the biscuits, your dish etc etc. The soft ‘morbidi’ version are far superior to the dried)

1. First make a zabaglione. In a heatproof bowl mix the 4 egg yolks with 60g sugar and the Marsala/Amaretto. Set the bowl tightly over a pot of simmering water and whisk like crazy until the eggs become a light colour and foamy. It’s ready when the consistency is like pouring custard and there is no raw egg taste.

2. Quickly mix the zabaglione with the mascarpone.

Mascarpone + zabaglione = pure delight

3. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy, then add the other 60g sugar until you have soft peaks. Gently combine the mascarpone and the egg whites. This is your heavenly cream mixture.

4. Get yourself organised with: a large serving dish; a shallow dish for dipping the biscuits in coffee; the cocoa and a sieve.

5. Dip the savoiardi into the coffee and turn then add to your serving dish until you have one layer of biscuits. Spread a layer of the cream mix over the top and then add a thorough dusting of cocoa. Repeat this in layers until you finish with cocoa on top – three full layers is a good guide to aim for.

Crunchy (not creamy) Coleslaw

Yesterday was 37°C. Summer is here!

I never thought I would find the smells of sunscreen and mosquito repellent so appealing. Caramelised onions on the barbecue and freshly picked basil and mint are more the kind of thing I was actively looking forward to.

Summer means lots of eating and cooking outside: barbecues and long cold drinks. We’ve been making loads of tomato salads and grilled eggplant. I’ve been adding finely sliced zucchini to green salads, and using the first of our homegrown herbs. Oh and I’ve newly discovered a love of mangoes, can’t get enough of them. After two winters in a row we’ve finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s hot and glorious.

So, rhapsody out of the way, this is just a simple recipe with my take on good old coleslaw. I like to have the vegetables shredded or chopped into large matchstick-sized pieces. The crunchy apple adds a great sweetness, while the sunflower seeds bring their usual toasty, nutty goodness. With the sharp dressing the result is a well-balanced, very crunchy salad that is easy to make in huge quantities for when you’re feeding a crowd.

To make

Half a red cabbage
2 carrots, peeled
2 crunchy apples
2 spring onions
¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons-ish red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon-ish olive oil
salt and pepper

Shred the cabbage finely with the grain, and then chop the long strands into around 4cm lengths. Chop the carrots and apples into matchstick-sized pieces. Clean the spring onions and remove the roots, then slice very finely at an angle.

Combine the cabbage, carrots, apples, spring onion and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.

Mix up a dressing of 2 parts vinegar to 1 part olive oil (i.e. an opposite ratio to usual dressings) and add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. I give ‘ish’ measurements above because the amount of dressing you need will vary depending on how big your veg are etc. Add the dressing a little at a time until you get just the right balance of sweet vegetables and tangy dressing.

One great thing about this salad is that it can handle being dressed a while in advance, so it’s great for taking to parties.

NB: If you won’t be eating the coleslaw straight away squeeze a little lemon juice over the chopped apples before adding them to the other ingredients to prevent them from discolouring.


Sausage and chickpea pasta bake (pasta al forno)

This dish is a bit of celebration of things I didn’t used to like, but have come to terms within the last few years. I’ve always associated sausages with the fatty, odd-tasting beef ‘sangas’ that grace the typical Aussie barbeque.

Celery is just something I never understood until I started adding it to stews and soups. The little bit in this recipe adds a very definite layer of flavour. I’ve also overcome the hassle of all the washing and chopping involved in celery by prepping a whole bunch at a time and freezing a container of pre-diced celery. I just pull some out and throw it straight in the pan and it’s fine – plus there’s a lot less waste.

Then there are pasta bakes, which, to be honest I always thought were just a bit tacky. I thought they were a bit of a cheat food – you know, add a jar of cheap sauce to some pasta and throw in the oven – ick. (NB I’m aware that there are several tinned ingredients in the list below, but I do live in the real world and I truly couldn’t live without tinned tomatoes and chickpeas.)

Anyway, after visiting Italy I realised that pasta al forno was actually quite traditional, and could be really delicious. In this dish the combination of rich tomato sauce, spicy sausages and creamy chickpeas is really divine.

Now, ingredients. There are three things you need to spend money on for this dish: the pasta, fresh parmesan and the sausages. I think that top-quality pasta is always worth buying, because even at $5 for 500g it’s an incredibly cheap meal by serve. I look for pasta made from durum semolina. If you can’t tell what it’s made of, the cooking time on the packet can be a good indicator of quality – anything less than 10 minutes is a bit suspicious.

Similarly, good  parmesan isn’t cheap, but it goes such a long way that per serve the cost is absolutely tiny. Meanwhile the sausages are here to give loads of flavour, so something spicy with top-quality meat is really worth buying. If you can’t get spicy sausages, add some chilli and paprika to the sauce.

I did a couple of quick sums and even with really nice pasta and sausages this dish cost less than $2.50 AUD per generous serve, which is cheap by almost anyone’s standards. It’s also very simple. I know the process and list of ingredients look long, but I’ve spelled this one out a bit because I’m thinking of a few friends who are beginner cooks with this one!

 Serves 6


Olive oil
400g ‘Italian-style’ sausages (spicy, with a mix of pork and beef)
½ red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
½ stick celery, finely diced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped
500g tomato passata (tomato puree – not paste)
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano

500g dried pasta (large penne are great)
200g fresh mozzarella (sometimes called bocconcini here in Aus)
parmesan cheese

To make

Heat a large pot and add a little oil. When the oil is hot, use scissors to snip the sausages into small pieces, dropping the segments straight into the pan. Cook the sausage pieces in batches, browning all over, and remove onto a plate – instant meatballs!

If the bottom of the pot is too burned add a little water and scrape the worst off then pour it out. Add a little more oil and then the onions. Once they’ve softened add the celery and garlic and cook down for a few minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the chopped tomatoes then cover the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato passata, sugar and vinegar. Cover, bring to the boil again and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the sausages, chickpeas and oregano and season with pepper – usually the sausages will be salty enough for the whole dish, particularly once the parmesan is added, so I don’t add any other salt. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta until it’s almost al dente (around two-thirds of the time quoted on the packet).

Now, I prepared this the day before I wanted to eat it, so I let the sauce and pasta cool down before I assembled everything. If you are doing that just make sure you coat the pasta in a little oil just after draining it, otherwise it’ll all stick together. If you want it now, ignore that – but I have to say that I think the overnight stopover really adds to this dish.

To assemble, take a deep baking dish and start with a thin layer of sauce. Add a single layer of pasta, then more sauce, a layer of mozzarella and a light grating of parmesan. Repeat until you end up with a final layer of cheese on top.

Bake at 180°C for around 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and crispy. Serve with a load of salad and enjoy!


Zesty Almond Biscuits and Zabaglione

When I googled ‘almond biscuits’ yesterday the second item that turned up (after the obligatory wikipedia page) was from the website of the Producers of McLaren Vale, with a recipe from my Mum! Freaky but true – I guess Google have really worked out who I am now.

So clearly this was the recipe I was after. I’ve followed it fairly exactly, but have added some orange zest and a dash of amaretto liqueur. These are honestly the easiest biscuits to make. There are very few ingredients, and no complicated processes – just mix, form and bake.

For the italophiles out there, these are also known as amaretti. The biscuits are crisp on the outside, but wonderfully chewy in the middle. They also happen to be the best accompaniment to an espresso in the world.

But the thing about this recipe is it only uses egg whites, so you have three egg yolks left over. This is your chance to make an unbelievably good Italian dessert – zabaglione with amaretti.

Zabaglione is kind of  like a custard, but very thick, almost like a mousse. It’s traditionally made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet marsala wine, but I like to make it with amaretto liqueur (are you sensing a trend). Amaretti biscuits dipped into hot zabaglione is, well, heavenly.

Three yolks makes just the right amount for two people, so if you’re feeding more just make more biscuits and you’ll have more egg yolks!

Before I get into that though, a quick note on blanching almonds. This is really easy, particularly when you have the beautiful Johnston almonds grown by my parents. This variety is typified by large kernels with thick, wrinkly skins.

To remove the skins you just need to soak the almonds in boiling water for a few minutes. After draining you’ll be able to pinch the skin off of the kernels in a trice.

Almond biscuits (Amaretti)

200g almond meal (I used ‘brown meal’ which is made from skin-on kernels)
1 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup plain flour
zest of 1/2 an orange
1-2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
3 egg whites at room temperature
24ish whole blanched almonds

to make

Pre-heat your oven to 160°C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, mix the almond meal, sugar, flour, orange zest and Amaretto liqueur. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they are stiff, then mix the egg whites into the other ingredients. You should end up with a thick paste.

Form the mixture into balls, one tablespoonful at a time and place on the baking trays. Press one blanched almond into the centre of each biscuit and flatten the ball slightly.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the biscuits are just blushing with golden colour. When cooked, remove the biscuits immediately to wire racks to cool.


3 egg yolks, at room temperature
50g castor sugar
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

to make

Get a few centimeters of water boiling in a pot. Pick a bowl that will sit well on top of your pot, then add all of the ingredients. Turn the pot down to a simmer then sit the bowl on top and whisk like crazy. Depending on how fit you are this may be a job for two people.

Your zabaglione is done when it is a lighter colour, fluffy and doesn’t have any raw yolk taste. This should only take a few minutes.

Pour the zabaglione into glasses (martini glasses are perfect because they are easy to dip the biscuits into), serve with some of your amaretti biscuits, and ascend instantly to a sugary heaven.


Slow roasted lamb shoulder served with warm lentil, pumpkin and feta salad with mint and orange dressing

Phew! You probably need a rest after reading the ridiculously long title for this recipe, but you really need to know the whole story because it’s the combination of flavours that makes this dish so delicious.

I’ve had a lovely long weekend spent cooking in my Mum’s kitchen. It’s been a bit of a working bee around here, with deck repairs and house painting going on all over the place. My assigned role was as scullery maid, keeping everyone fed, watered and in clean clothing (well, I did one or two loads of laundry).

I served this slightly unconventional version of the classic Sunday roast to a hungry crowd last night and it was very well received.

The seed idea for this dish, which I’ve made once before, started with the combination of unctuous slow-cooked lamb and lentils. I like a bit of tang with legumes, so I mentally wandered on and thought it might be fun to dress the lentils in a version of mint sauce, the classic accompaniment for roast lamb.

The end result is a winter-warmer that still has loads of fresh flavour thanks to the orange and mint.

The lentils I used were beautiful black lentils grown in South Australia. They were lovely and plump and held their shape perfectly after cooking. French-style Puy lentils would be a good equivalent.

To make

for the lamb:
1.5–2kg lamb shoulder, bones in
4ish cloves garlic, whole
3ish sprigs fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

for the lentils:
1.5 cups dried lentils
1 small brown onion
2 centimetre-wide strips orange peel
4ish mint leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil

for the dressing:
2–3 tablespoons chopped mint
juice of 1 large orange
white wine vinegar (quantity equivalent to the orange juice)
1–2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

the rest:
1.5 cups pumpkin, in 1.5cm cubes
200g feta cheese, also in 1.5cm cubes

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

2. Place the garlic cloves and rosemary in the bottom of a roasting tin. Season the lamb and place it on top of the garlic and rosemary, skin side up. Cover loosely with aluminium foil and place in the hot oven. After 15 minutes turn the heat down to 150°C. Roast for 4–5 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.

3. Do other things for a few hours.

4. Peel and cube the pumpkin then roast on a tray for around an hour (if it’s at 150°C with the lamb) or until it is cooked through and a little coloured.

5. As you’re putting the pumpkin in the oven take the lamb out and drain off the liquid that has collected in the bottom of the pan. Cover the lamb again and return it to the oven. Allow the liquid to sit for 10 minutes or so and then skim the fat off of the top. You should be left with lovely clear juices. Reduce these in a small saucepan until you have just a few tablespoons of lovely lamb essence.

6. In a large-ish saucepan boil 2ish litres of water (I’m so precise!). Meanwhile peel the onion and chop it in half, prepare the strips of orange zest and the mint leaves. Add these to the boiling water along with the lentils. Cook until the lentils are tender but are still holding their shape. Drain then pour back into the saucepan. Stir the olive oil and a pinch of salt through the hot lentils (remember the feta will be very salty so go easy at this stage).

7. To prepare the salad dressing, mix the finely grated orange zest with the orange juice, white wine vinegar and most of the chopped mint.

8. Mix the lentils, pumpkin and the dressing.

9. Prepare the lamb meat by pulling it apart into chunks. It should just fall off the bone.

10. Assembly! At the last moment mix the feta into the rest of the salad and then pour the lot onto a large serving dish that has a bit of a lip (there will be juices to contain). Add the lamb meat and then pour the reduced juices over the meat. Garnish with a final flourish of chopped mint.

11. Devour and collect the praises that will be heaped at your feet by admiring fans (particularly if they are ravenous after a hard day of house painting!)


a winter sundae

Last week (our second back in Australia) was the start of winter. The first of June was cool, but sunny and clear-skied—a timely reminder of why this is a fantastic country to live in.

Winter is a gentle season here. Unlike in the European winter this is the greenest time of year, as most trees don’t loose their leaves.  The sun shines most days, at least for a few hours, and the sky just feels lighter and less oppressive than in the cold north.

One of the advantages of this mild cool season is that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grow in winter here. The fruit bowl in front of me has beautiful apples, pears and oranges. There are bowls of quinces, lemons and grapefruit waiting for my mother to turn them into jam, and there are even a few late tomatoes hanging around.

This is also, apparently, the harvest time for persimmons. Knowing that my mum is a jam-maker extraordinaire, a colleague of my father sent him home with a bag full of these exotic fruit.

Now we’re a fairly omnivorous bunch, but somehow none of us had ever eaten persimmons (or at least no one remembered that they had). We looked at these lovely burn orange fruit, ummed and ahed, googled and decided to turn them into chutney.

Before we got to the persimmons though, the lovely Zannie dropped by and staged an intervention. She showed us the true path towards persimmon appreciation—slices of peeled fruit eaten just as is.

The fruit turns out to be crunchy and very sweet, something like a cross between the texture of a crunchy pear and the flavour of a rockmelon, but with its very own wonderful thing happening.

So, on Sunday I was thinking about how to turn the persimmons into a light dessert and decided to try grilling them, as you can with peaches or pineapple. The sweetness of the persimmon was heightened by the quick cooking, taking on a toffee-ish flavour while retaining their crunch. Combined with some vanilla-infused whipped cream the grilled fruit were a very sweet and satisfying treat.

to make

One piece of fruit per person

300ml cream
3 drops vanilla essence
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Toasted slivered almonds or wafers for serving

Peel and slice the persimmons and pears into thick wedges. Heat a griddle pan until very hot then grill the fruit on each side just long enough to get deep caramel colour.

Add the vanilla essence and brown sugar to the cream and whip until it is light and just forming soft peaks.

Serve three or four pieces of fruit with a good dollop of the cream and slivered almond or a wafer on top.

How exciting to find a new flavour!



This is a recipe for my gorgeous cousins, who are back in Italy with most of a bottle of maple syrup that needs an accompaniment (because lets face it, pancakes are just an excuse for eating maple syrup right?). I promised to teach them how to make pancakes before I left, but unfortunately that was among the long list of things that didn’t get squeezed into our last few weeks in the northern hemisphere.

So, pancakes have been done before: But this is the recipe that I cooked every Sunday morning from as soon as I could see over the top of the stove. The proportions and preparation are incredibly simple, the result delicious. Oh, and I should mention that these are large flat pancakes, not the smaller risen ones.

The basic recipe below has had one minor adjustment in recent years, as I’ve started substituting half of the plain flour for oat flour. This improves the taste and texture of the pancakes, although I wouldn’t promise anything about healthiness, remember the maple syrup!

The amounts below can be multiplied to infinity. Remember, you can always put leftover pancakes in the fridge and eat them the next day.

to make

(serves 2–3 people)

1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup plain flour

Butter for cooking

Mix the egg, milk and flour together until there are no lumps. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Set up a heavy bottomed frying pan, two large plates, the pancake batter with a ladle, butter and an egg flip.

Heat the frying pan on a medium heat. Add a teaspoon of butter, swirl it around the pan to coat the bottom and wait for it to start sizzling. Then, add a small ladle full of batter and swirl the pan to form a circle of the mixture.

Leave the pan alone! Wait for the pancake to be almost totally set on top (you can test it by gently touching the top of the pancake with the egg flip). Once it’s set, flip the pancake over to cook the other side. The second side won’t take quite so long.

Remove the pancake to a plate and then cover with the second plate (this will keep the cooked pancakes warm while you cook the others).

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep adding more butter in between each pancake and make sure the butter is sizzling before you add the batter.

Serve the pancakes with your favourite toppings and enjoy!

Buon appetite ragazze, spero che ci vediamo fra poco!

Irish-ish soda bread

In my last post I introduced you to some of my Scottish ancestors. Today’s recipe is a tip of the hat to the Irish peasants in my lineage.

A few weeks ago I decided to have a go at making soda bread. This Irish staple is about as simple as bread making can be – flour mixed with water, salt, bicarbonate soda and (traditionally) buttermilk. The dough takes no kneading or rising — just mix, form and throw in the oven. In other words, this is the bread recipe for lazy or baking-shy sods like me!

My traditional-ish loaf.

Another advantage of soda bread is that the rising isn’t dependent on the gluten in the flour (as with yeast bread). Instead the bread is given lift through a reaction between the bicarb soda and the acid in the buttermilk. This means lower-gluten (‘soft’) flours can be used without compromising the chemical reaction.

I trawled the internet a bit to find the right recipe (read: the recipe with the fewest ingredients) and ended up trying two options. The first used yoghurt in place of the buttermilk. I also used a mix of Kamut and regular flour for this loaf. The dough was very sticky, but came together fairly easily.

The second loaf was made using a recipe from the very endearingly named Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website. This site has a comprehensive history section, which informs their slightly prescriptive statements about what is ‘true’ soda bread. My yogurt loaf wouldn’t have qualified, however delicious it was.

The revolutionary yogurt loaf.

The recipe from the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website stuck close to tradition, although I made two adaptations. I substituted rye flour for the wholewheat flour and also used an instant soured milk in place of buttermilk, as the latter is impossible to find in Italy.

To make instant buttermilk mix one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into one cup of milk. Leave for a few minutes and it is ready to use.

The second dough was much drier than the first, although it rose well in the oven. On balance I think I preferred the yogurt loaf, but only marginally. Both loaves were gobbled up quickly in our house of six people. The bread was quite dense but toasted beautifully. The taste was a little like English scones, particularly when slices of toasted bread were paired with butter and plum jam!

All in all soda bread was a fun experiment, and something I’ll definitely cook in the future. It wouldn’t lend itself to all uses – I can’t imagine making sandwiches or bruschetta on this bread – but for afternoon tea it can’t be beaten.

Soda bread with yoghurt

450g wholemeal flour (I used half kamut, half white flour)
2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
300ml whole yogurt
150ml warm water
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix flour, bicarb soda and salt then stir in the yogurt and water.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a round ball and place on a flat baking tray. Cut a deep cross into the top of the dough.

Bake for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes. To test if the loaf is ready tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done.

Traditional(ish) soda bread

4 cups wholewheat flour (I used rye)
2 cups white flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
2 cups buttermilk
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 220°C. Mix the dry ingredients and then gradually mix in the buttermilk.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a round ball and place on a flat baking tray. Cut a deep cross into the top of the dough.

Bake at 220°C for 25 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C for a further 15 minutes.