Week 2 of Bread: Sage Soda
Let’s see, how many bread recipes have we gone through together so far? Miracle Bread, Dried Tomato Braid, Pumpernickel, Pesto Whirl, Pita, Sourdough, Cinnamon Rolls, Cheddar Pepper Rolls and Cinnamon Raisin…yep, that makes nine. That’s what I thought. Do you know what each of these recipes has in common? I think I just heard someone snicker, “They’re all breads, moron.” Yes, I know that much, thank you. Do you know what else they have in common? They’ve all taken many shapes and held several different ingredients, but at the start of them all was yeast. Bubbly hungry yeast took them all from mild-mannered blobs of wet flour to celebrated crusty loaves of homemade goodness. Bravo, yeast, bravo!!
Yeast breads have always been my favorite to work with and, frankly, I hadn’t delved much into the other realms of loaf breads, of which I know two types: quick breads and soda breads. Of course, like any baker who’s been around the block once or twice, I have my standard for zucchini bread and pumpkin (cranberry) bread, two quick breads that are fairly common in my collective neighborhoods. But I’d only tried soda bread once, quite some time ago, and my vague recollection of it was not all that positive. Not wanting to leave these realm of bread-making unexplored during SFTF’s Week(s) of Bread, I decided to give soda bread another shot.
Soda bread gets its designation from baking soda, which is the leavening agent (what makes bread rise) in the dough, rather than the yeast of the recipes I’ve been posting previously. Since baking soda is not as rambunctious as yeast, the resulting bread is usually denser than your standard yeast loaf. This density has its advantages and disadvantages; soda bread is good as a hunk alongside a bowl of soup, but it’s not so great sliced for sandwiches.
I’m still picking off leaves from the huge bunch of sage I hung up to dry during the summer, and sage-infused soda bread sounded like a nice accompaniment to the Spicy Parsnip Soup I made recently. The sage scent and flavor of the loaf was almost heady, but the texture was what really surprised me. Bearing in mind that my memories of my last soda bread attempt weren’t all that warm and fuzzy, I wasn’t expecting the almost silky quality of the bread in my mouth. It was most certainly denser and more crumby than the yeast breads, but the change was a welcome one.
Comparing my two drastically different soda bread experiences, it would seem to me that the key to success with soda breads, much the same as with yeast breads, is making sure your leavening/baking soda is fresh and active. I’ve acquired a few tricks since my first batch of soda bread and knew this time to test the soda out first by sprinkling a pinch of it over warm water. It fizzed vigorously, indicating it had plenty of leavening action to offer my dough. If it hadn’t fizzed so happily, I would have needed to get a new container of baking soda before proceeding. You’d be wise to do the same.
So which do I prefer, yeast or soda? I have to say I’m fonder of the yeast breads on a whole, but I do really like the idea of being able to use baking soda should I be out of yeast sometime. Or if I just want a loaf specifically for soup, I’d choose soda bread. It’s nice to have options, isn’t it?
SAGE SODA BREAD
Adapted from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white bread flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
2 t. dried rubbed sage
1 c. buttermilk*
*If you don’t have buttermilk on hand or if you just want to use up some regular milk that’s nearing expiration, make your own buttermilk by mixing 1 cup of regular milk with 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until it curdles and thickens slightly.
Preheat oven at 425 F. Sift the flours, salt and baking soda together in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the sage and then add about half the buttermilk at first. Mix and add small amounts of buttermilk until a soft dough forms. One cup of buttermilk should be enough but add more if necessary.
Scrape out dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently work it into a round loaf. Do not knead the dough. Place the loaf on a lightly oiled baking sheet or stone. Using a large sharp knife, cut a deep cross in the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the loaf is risen and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool on a wire rack prior to cutting.
(makes 1 loaf)