Vegan Irish Soda Bread

I know, I know, St. Patrick’s day has come and gone and there are already 12 million blog posts already about vegan Irish IMG_3519food. But you should read this post anyway. Because a) I have been working on it for 5 days already (I do not have ADHD – my life has ADHD) and b) because this it the best recipe for vegan Irish soda bread. It is, in fact, a “veganized” version of the recipe in The Food Geek’s Bible The New America’s Best Recipe, which is a splendid cookbook from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. The thing is, if you want the vegan version of a dish to be really good, it helps to know what techniques and ingredients make the non-vegan version good in the first place. So here is what I found out about Irish soda bread: it is basically a giant biscuit. Ireland, like the American South, is not a good place for growing wheat, especially not hard winter wheat with lots of gluten that works well for lovely, chewy, crusty, hole-y, yeast breads, like baguettes and bagels. So they make chemically leavened bread instead of yeast bread using a) other grains, or b) flour made from soft, low-protien wheat. With that information in mind, here is what you need to know (this also applies to scones, biscuits, and most quick breads):

  • Use lower protein flour. This means all-purpose (lower) or cake/pastry (lowest), not bread flour. Look for soft white wheat as an ingredient rather than hard red winter wheat. Gold Medal brand tends to be lower in protein than King Arthur.
  • Handle with care. The more you knead or mix it, the more you develop the gluten, which is awesome for yeast breads but will make this kind of bread tough. You want to knead or mix it just enough, then quit before it is perfectly smooth.
  • Have your oven hot and everything ready to go before combining your liquid with your dry ingredients. Breads leavened with baking powder can tolerate a little more wait time, but baking soda will start reacting with the acids in whatever liquid you are using immediately. You want as much of that bubbling as possible to happen in the oven rather than on the countertop.
  • Eat it as soon as possible. Soda bread will keep in an airtight container or uncovered on the countertop with the cut side down for a few days, but it is best when fresh.

Ingredients:

3 cups (15 oz.) all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
1 cup (4 oz.) cake flour or whole wheat pastry flour (or another cup of 
   all purpose)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP coconut oil (put it in the fridge to solidify if your kitchen 
is hot)
1 1/2 cups milk substitute of choice (preferably unsweetened)
1 1/2 TBSP lemon juice

Method:

IMG_35011. Preheat oven to 400º. If you are fortunate enough to possess a cast iron dutch oven, grease it with coconut oil. Otherwise line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine lemon juice with milk substitute. Set aside. Combine all dry ingredients and whisk together.

2. Cut coconut oil into dry ingredients using a fork or work in with your fingers until there are no large lumps of coconut oil left.IMG_3504

3. Add liquid to dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until it comes together into a rough lump. Knead a couple of times in the bowl. (If there is still a lot of dry flour that won’t come together you can add another teaspoon or two of whatever milk you are using.) Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a dozen or so turns (about long enough to sing the “Our Father, if you’re Orthodox. Unless you’re singing in an elaborate Byzantine melody. Don’t knead it that long). The dough should still look a bit rough.

4. Form dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. With a sharp knife score a cross on top of the bread, making your cuts about 1/2 inch deep.

IMG_3509

See how the surface is still a little lumpy?

5. If you don’t have a dutch oven, just put the bread on the cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes. The crust may be a little hard, so you can soften it by wrapping the bread in a clean towel as it cools or brushing a tablespoon of melted coconut oil or vegan margarine on top.

If you have a dutch oven, place the bread in the center of it and put the lid on. Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes.

6. For the best texture, try to let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes (if you can restrain yourself that long). For even slices rather than wedges, cut the bread in half, then stand half of the loaf on the cutting board with the cut side down and slice.

This is a good recipe if you have always wanted to try baking your own bread but are intimidated by yeast bread, because even though it is chemically leavened it is sturdy enough to use for toast or sandwiches. It is perfect Lenten bread because it actually tastes good without butter or margarine. It is also a great recipe to have in your repertoire if you bake all of your bread, because we all know that sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for a batch of bread to rise, whereas this only takes an hour start to finish.


		
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