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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

As with all the best bread recipes, this traditional bread is simplicity itself. The ingredients in a traditional Irish soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The brown soda bread is an every day staple, served with soup and other meals or alone but nearly always with lashings of butter. The white soda is the more refined version and often contains a handful of raisins.

It's true that soda bread dries out quickly after slicing, but it makes fantastic toast the next day. An Irish soda bread base can make great flavoured breads, with cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion or garlic, although strictly speaking it ceases to become an Irish soda bread when any of these things are added. I always think it is best eaten freshly-baked and warm or toasted, slathered liberally with butter and smothered in good jam.

400g plain flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
350ml buttermilk
2 handfuls of raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas 8.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml in the measuring jug), at this stage add in the raisins if using. Using one hand with your fingers splayed (or two knives), bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky, but with the minimum amount of handling.

3. When the dough comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm deep and cut a deep cross in the top.

4. Place the dough onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/gas 6 and bake for a further 30. When ready, the loaf will be browned and will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base.

5. Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel for a slightly softer crust.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Granola & Chocolate Chip Cookies

My second daughter, Lily, could be referred to as challenging by some, although I obviously don't think she is a bit. I make these cookies to take to the hard working ladies in the creche, who put up with a lot and come to the door, always in good humor, with their stories to tell her fond Mama. "Lily was in 'time out'" they say. "She punched Chloe/Callum/Freya". "Ah, she's just spirited" I say. "Have a cookie." They love these cookies. Lily may grow out of her three year old's hot temper one day, but if she doesn't I will make these cookies for her parole officer. I'm sure she will love them too.

This recipe came originally from the Primrose Bakery cookbook, but I found that the ratio of granola and nuts to actual cookie dough was unworkable. These quantities below will give you about 24 large cookies and a much easier dough to work with. These cookies should be made with a very good quality granola. I always make them with our own granola without any added dried fruit but if I was to make them with a bought granola I would go to that extra bit of trouble and pick out most of the fruit, as it's best with the crunchy nuts, seeds and oats and the soft, melty bits of sweet chocolate. Anything extra to me would seem a bit much, like an over-gilding of the Lily!

Granola & Chocolate Chip Cookies

460g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
230g butter
230g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g granola
150g white chocolate roughly chopped
150g dark chocolate roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 180C. Line 2 baking trays if cooking immediately. Sift the flour, bicarb and salt into a bowl. Cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla and egg, beat well, and mix in the flour mixture gradually to form a dough. Stir in remaining ingredients with a spoon (granola and both chocolate chips). Scoop about two tablespoons of mixture out and roll into a ball with your hands. Place them, spaced out, onto the sheet lined with parchment. Flatten cookies slightly with hands or a fork and bake for about 10 mins or a little longer until they begin to firm up.

If not cooking all the dough immediately, roll them into their portions and freeze. They will keep as well in the fridge for up to a week, well wrapped, so as not to take on any fridge smells. Any cooked and uneaten biscuits are fine in an airtight container for three or four days.