I want to be happy about the snow, but really, the ice/snow/wind/freezing rain bonanza that we got this weekend was a bit much. Today, at least, I am sitting in a warm and sunny spot in my house with my two furry companions at my feet, but when I look out the window, I can see the wind shaking the frozen-stiff trees and the rhododendron leaves clenched tight. I can hear the wind blowing and cars going down the street and cracking through the ice and rock hard snow- uggh. Some of my family members think this is just fine, but I’m getting a wee bit tired of it.
Luckily, I’ve found another way to escape the New England winter and cook, cook, cook. I am headed off to Ballymaloe Cooking School in Cork County, Ireland for the next two and a half months. I think it may be dark and wet and cold there, but there will be lots to do. I will be helping out on their 100 acre farm, greenhouses, bake shop and assisting in their cooking school. I will be living in a little cottage which would have sweet little roses all over it if it wasn’t January! Check out Ballymaloe Cooking School. Maybe you’d like to come to a cooking class and visit Ireland?
In preparation, I thought I would try a few recipes from The Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook. Irish Soda Bread seems like a good place to start…. please, of course I know how to make that (awk). I tried to look this up in the index- hmmmm. Lesson #1, it’s not called “Irish Soda bread” in Ireland. The Irish soda bread that I love (there are many variations) is called “Spotted Dog”.
Here is what Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cooking School says about Spotted Dog…
Spotted Dog is also called railway cake in some parts of the country; “a currant for each station”. This bread is one of the great homely foods of our family. It has always been a favorite with my children. Freshly made on a Sunday morning for our picnics on the cliffs of Ballyandreen. Or relished with delight when eaten with lashings of butter, jam and steaming mugs of hot chocolate after a winter walk on Shanagarry strand. It is also a staple in our ‘pre-weighted repertoire’; made on our family boating trips on the Shannon and given as a parting gift to the many boats we met on the way.
Robin’s note: Lashings of butter? that sounds great!
450g (1 lb) plain white flour preferable unbleached
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
1 level teaspoon salt
1 dessertspoon sugar
75-110g (3-4 0z) sultanas
350ml (122 fl oz) buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 220 C/425 F/gas 7
In a large mixing bowl sieve the flour and the bicarbonate of soda and add the salt, sugar and fruit. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up in your hands and letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore, hopefully more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of your flour. Break the egg in the bottom of your measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 400ml (14fl oz) line – the egg is part of your liquid measurement. Whisk briefly to blend and pour most of the milk and egg into the flour. Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing the the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
The trick with Spotted Dog like all soda breads is not to over-mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and as gently as possible thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. With floured fingers roll lightly for a few seconds – just enough to tidy up. Pat the dough into a round, pressing to about 5cm (2 in) in height.
Place the dough on to a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. With a sharp knife cut a deep cross on it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with a knife at the four angles as, according to Irish Folklore, this is to let the fairies out.
Cook in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 220 C/400 F/ gas 6, for 35 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Spotted dog is also really good eaten with cheese.
I hope that Ireland has in store for me as much warmth and character as this recipe holds.