Friday, March 15, 2013

A Wee Bit of Work Yields This Amazing Daily Bread

Top o’ the mornin’! Could we be coming up on St. Patrick’s Day weekend already?! While some are headed for pubs with green beer, I’m thinking of staying in and waiting for the crowds to lighten up, and I gotta tell you that it helped me rediscover the joys of being alone in my kitchen. This spring morning seemed perfect for baking; shafts of lemony sun played across the counter tops, so that I knew natural lighting would be more than enough for photos: It's called “plate and shoot”—a process I’ve been doing for months getting my new book ready.

I gathered the ingredients to make Irish Soda Bread and had them whipped up before the oven preheated. Then I wandered into the office to work. Once that bread started baking, I wandered right back out! I worked in the kitchen with my laptop, just to sit and revel in the aroma. I got out the nice dessert plates, boiled and steeped my blackest most Irish tea, and cut up pats of chilled Kerry Gold butter that would soon melt over the golden, crunchy peaks of the bread. I arranged some daisies, dyed green…yeah, we food bloggers take the holidays pretty seriously!

My work this morning has consisted of pouring over friends’ thoughts on bread machines. Certainly, I advocate their use in lots of SUNDAY BEST bread recipes, but my love of actual hands-on, old-fashioned baking just won’t go away. Working with dough, is the most cathartic thing ever; in fact, with Irish soda bread you can work your biceps by hand mixing and forgoing the electric mixer altogether. The butter in the bowl is chilled and doesn’t yield immediately, but, eventually it does disperse its buttery goodness through the entire mound of dough.

The only trick you need to know going in, is that if you want your currents, raisins—or, in my case, dried cranberries—to bake in evenly, you’ve got to toss the berries in a tablespoon of flour first. I love the note every baker who makes this bread says about knowing when it’s done: “Tap the loaf when it’s fresh from the oven, and you should hear a “hollow” sound. Friends, I can tell you that this is one of the truest things in life.

But wasn’t I supposed to be telling you the merits of bread machines? I talked to several home cooks who prefer them over the “kneading, rising and watching” process that is baking from scratch. One fellow food blogger admitted that the Oster brand she’s loved for 15 years, once walked itself right off the counter during the kneading process. Long story short: she put it back together and carried on just fine. Her advice for those who wish to buy a bread machine? You’re better off with a horizontal shaped pan, so that the shape of the loaf doesn’t look weird, and cuts up better for sandwiches.

The bread machine I link to in Sunday Best Meals (buy the book this summer to get the gadgets!) can be programmed in the evening, for fresh baked bread in the morning, and the only beef with it, is that it takes up some real estate in kitchen space—but for a bread lover, it is, as the name of my catering biz connotes: Worth It!

Anyway, happy St. Pat’s everyone. May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back. I’m going to make some shepherd’s pie the way my Irish grannie used to, so just keep trying me if you can’t get me on the phone!

Love and all things Irish--XXOO!! 

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