Caraway Soda Bread

One of the things I love about making soda bread is that it is just so darn easy. With yeast breads you have to proof the yeast, knead the dough, let the dough rise, etc. But with soda breads, there’s no proofing, kneading, or waiting. In fact, because the leavening comes from mixing the base of the baking soda with the acid in the buttermilk (remember those fascinating-at-the-time childhood experiments of sprinkling vinegar onto baking soda?), you pretty much pop it in the oven as soon as you put the dough together. The trick is to use a light hand, just work the dough barely enough to bring it together. It looks like a sheep-doggy shaggy mess, but it bakes up beautifully—lightly browned and crusty on the outside, while soft and tender on the inside.

As for the caraway seeds in this soda bread, these are included on the light side, giving a not-so-over powering caraway kick to the bread.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (1 pound)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick) room temp
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*

*If necessary, you can substitute buttermilk with a half cup of plain yogurt mixed in with a cup of plain milk and a tablespoon of white vinegar.

Method

1 Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and caraway seeds.

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2 Using your fingers (or a fork) work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

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3 Make a well in the center of the flour. Pour the buttermilk into the center and using either your hands or a wooden spoon, fold the flour over the buttermilk and gently mix until just combined. The dough should be neither too wet or too dry, so if it is a little too dry to work with, add a little more buttermilk. If too wet, add a little more flour. Roughly shape into a ball and place on a floured surface. Knead just a few times to shape it into a round loaf. Do not over-knead or the bread will be tough.

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4 Place dough loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or cast iron pan). Make 1 1/2-inch deep cuts, forming a cross, from side to side on the loaf. The scoring helps the heat get to the center of the loaf while cooking.

5 Place in oven, cook for 15 minutes at 450°F, then lower the heat to 400°F and cook for 25 more minutes. One way to test for doneness is to take it out of the oven, turn it over and knock on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done. You can also use a skewer inserted into the center.

Let bread sit on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes to cool. Then remove it to a rack to cool a little bit longer. I think the bread is best when it is still warm and just baked. Quick breads like this, which rely on baking soda for leavening, are generally best eaten soon after they're baked.

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