On the hunt for inspiration for a brunch recipe that would offer a different take on one of our most traditional foods, our beloved soda bread, the first cookery book that sprung to mind was the wonderful ‘Full & Plenty’ by Maura Laverty.
This gem of a book was first published in 1960 by the Irish Flour Millers Association. It was gifted to me some years ago by my aunt Elaine, who had been given it by her mother in law. My aunt introduced it as the Irish housewives ‘go to’ cookery manual of the time. If you haven’t come across it, I highly recommend asking a family member or rummaging through a second hand book store.
Looking past the sparse photos with their retro take on food styling you will find a wealth of food knowledge and a vast array of recipes which did much to influence the tastes of a generation and were undoubtedly responsible for livening up many a family dinner.
Although a cookery book,Maura Laverty style of writing includes stories of people, many from her childhood that tells much of Ireland and its attitude to food in the 1960’s.
It is no coincidence the first section of the book is on breads after all what could be more quintessentially Irish than soda bread. These breads are yeast free and use soft white or wholemeal flour or a combination of both.
They get their name for the leavening agent used, their aeration coming from the reaction between the bicarbonate of soda and the acidic buttermilk. This reaction produces carbon dioxide which gets trapped in the structure of the dough, the gas expands on heating casing the dough to rise. The trick to working with soda breads is to avoid over handling them or leaving them sitting around too long before baking.
Unlike yeast breads the dough does not require extensive mixing or kneading to develop it’s structure. Over handling can result in a tight or firm texture when baked. A good freshly baked soda bread should have a soft crumb on the inside, a slightly thick, chewy crust, with a mildly acidic smell and a slightly salty taste.
A soda bread that results in a ‘tingly sensation’ on the tongue or a ‘furry’ feeling on the teeth when eaten is more than likely the result of too much bicarbonate of soda. This recipe for Roasted Garlic & Thyme Griddle bread is essentially a white soda bread dough, which is rolled thinner than the traditional round bannock and then baked on a buttered heavy based pan rather than oven baked. The addition of roasted garlic paste and fresh thyme make it an ideal inclusion for brunch or for mopping up your favourite soup from the bottom of the bowl.