melo_annechen: (ooh)
melo_annechen ([personal profile] melo_annechen) wrote2016-04-16 10:47 pm

The quick and the bread

Quick breads. They’re usually really quick, not needing the extended rise times for yeasts, and often have limited ingredients. They are found in several different forms, sometimes building on the same recipe.For instance, soda bread to biscuits to shortcakes.

I started seeing this while I was researching “traditional” Irish soda bread for St Patrick’s Day. Yes, I know that most Irish, if they are Catholic, are fasting on the saint’s day, so there’s no “traditional” St Patrick’s Day meal. The whole corned beef thing would have been an upper class meal, besides. But soda bread, that was something everyone might have had every day.

I found a really good site for discussion on the staple, The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread ( Reading the essays on the site discussing why anything more than Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, Buttermilk is not soda bread, I heard my grandmother’s ghost muttering, “people just want to add everything to a perfectly good simple recipe. It’s just not right.”

In fact, I can see the genealogical connection between soda bread and the biscuits (Southeastern US, not the UK biscuits). The only addition is butter, which is actually mentioned in some of the older soda bread recipes. Not surprising, considering the number of Irish (and others from the British Isles) that immigrated to the US and ended up in the Appalachians and the Flatlands beyond.
Even the use of whole wheat flour in the brown bread variety is familiar to those who remember when white flour was for company. Before the rise of corporate food production, wheat flour was cheaper, being less labor intensive, so it was for everyday consumption.

To be honest, I’m the only one in the house that likes biscuits and homemade yeast bread made from all whole wheat flour. The rest of the family prefers the recipes that have three cups whole wheat flour to one cup all purpose flour. I tend to also buy unbleached all purpose flour, but that is a personal preference, rather than a requirement.
The big requirement for these recipes is to NOT use self-rising flour in them - the “self rising” designation means they already contain baking powder and salt, but not always in the ratios needed for these applications. All purpose flour is the preferred flour for control freaks like me.

When it comes to brown bread, there’s a few recipes in the family that call for it to be baked in a one pound coffee can with a pan of water in the oven for extra moisture. They all have additions that would label them as tea bread, with raisins or other dried fruit. These days, if you can even FIND an oven-safe coffee can to use, it is an antique. The water bath method is used for all sorts of baking, but can be messy; we’ll look more at that method later for the cheesecake recipes. For now, we’ll keep to the basics.

Brown Bread

3 cups (12 oz) of whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 oz) of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking of soda.
4 tablespoons of butter
14 ounces of buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.  In a large bowl sift to combine all the dry ingredients.

  2. Cut in the butter until the flour is crumbly.

  3. Make a well in the center and gradually mix in the buttermilk. You may need less or more liquid - it depends on the absorbent quality of the flour and the local relative humidity.

  4. Place on floured surface and lightly knead, just a few times (too much rough housing allows the gas to escape).

  5. Shape into a flat disc in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

  6. Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the hearth cooking in a bastible pot [known as a cast iron dutch oven in American cookware stores]).

  7. Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done. Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

  8. Let cool and you are ready to have a buttered slice with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

White Soda Bread
(or what to serve to the company with supper)

4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour.
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
14 oz of buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.

  2. In a large bowl sift to combine all the dry ingredients.

  3. Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and gently knead.

  4. Shape into a flat disc in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

  5. Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (again with the bastible pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.

Looking at these examples, it shows how closely related these are to Southern biscuits. The main differences in the older American recipes depended on whether you had access to cows or pigs. If you had a cow, you would use butter in the recipe; someone who raised hogs would generally use lard. I have also made biscuits with vegetable shortening, but since I do not use it for many recipes, I don’t always have it on hand.

However, we do use a good bit of butter; this is real butter, not margarine. Himself has commented that normal people do not consider themselves to be out of butter if there is only one pound of it in the refrigerator. My response is usually that he knew I wasn't normal when he married me. Then again, he mostly cooks stir fry and chili, and therefore does not notice if we are out it as often.

Now, Alton Brown has a very nice recipe for Southern Biscuits which is a lovely and servicable recipe, complete with commentary from his grandmother. I highly recommend it for breakfast biscuits. However, when I remember having biscuits as a child, even though I know we had the regular sort, the thoroughly decadent version Mama made when we had biscuits with dinner made an impression. Do not share this recipe with your cardiologist, it will only make them sad.

Hideously Decadent Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup buttermilk, chilled


  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

  2. Put four tablespoons of butter in an 8”x8” baking dish to melt. Keep an eye on this while you mix up the biscuits, as you don’t want to let it go beyond lightly browned butter. Pull it from the oven when the butter is melted.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. The faster you can manage this the better, you don't want the butter to melt. If your hands are very warm, sometimes a pastry cutter or fork helps blend the fat in without melting it.

  4. Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

  5. Turn dough onto a well- floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick square. This should be about 8 inches square. Cut out biscuits in strips with a knife, first dividing the square in half, then you should be able to get sixteen four inch by ½ inch biscuits. When you cut be sure to push straight down through the dough, as sawing through will reduce the rise.

  6. Place biscuits in the baking dish, turning to coat in the melted butter, and snug them together so that they just touch. You want to do this just before you put them in the oven, so you may not want to start until the oven has reached 450 degrees.

  7. Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Finally, we get to the sweet quick breads. Add sugar, and you’ve left biscuits and gone over to shortcake. Or it could be scones (or scones, depending on your pronunciation.) The main difference here is the removal of the baking soda and the buttermilk, and adding in sugar and cream. Yes, this is another one we don’t talk about with the cardiologist. Just don’t have them every day. Besides, it’s best with fresh berries in season.

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup cream
Melted butter to brush shortcakes
Ice cream or whipped cream


  1. Heat oven 450°F.

  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

  3. Cut in butter, with the same method as for the biscuits.

  4. Mix in cream. This will be a fairly sticky, wet dough.

  5. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet, or use that three ounce ice cream scoop you use to fill muffin cups.

  6. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

  7. Bake for 15 minutes or until brown.

  8. Cool and eat with berries, ice cream and/or whipped cream.

On the other hand, clotted cream would go well with this, but that’s another post.

[identity profile] 2016-04-19 03:04 am (UTC)(link)
I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the blessed King Arthur Flour Company has an unbleached white whole wheat flour.

[identity profile] 2016-04-19 03:50 am (UTC)(link)
They're spendy, but really nice products. They finally have an unbleached cake flour that I'm trying out now that the A/C has been fixed.