Irish Soda Bread

One round 18 cm (7″) loaf
(No gluten, dairy, cane sugar; with options for soy)

It is a rare person whose interest does not escalate at the sight or smell of freshly baked bread. This classic is quick to prepare and can turn a simple soup or salad meal into an anticipated event. Try the currant or cumin variation with pumpkin or Latin Black Bean Soup; or the herb version with Pear and Fresh Date Salad (see RECIPES). Or serve for brunch with a fruit platter, boiled eggs or Tofu Scramble. The result is similar to a scone dough – with savoury and sweet variations – but moister and longer keeping. It later toasts well too.

Several ingredients keep it light and enable it to bake free-standing – an unusual achievement without the structural help of gluten. Adding a small amount of guar gum (ground seed of an Indian legume) or xanthan gum (a white powder made from fermented corn) to breads and pastry helps them bind like gluten would without dry and crumbly results. These are available from health stores, as is gluten-free baking powder. Tapioca flour is very light and starchy like cornflour. Buy it from Asian food stores and health stores. Soy or chickpea flour add colour, binding ability and markedly increased protein and calcium content. Most supermarkets stock these.

Another contributor is the addition of ‘soured milk’ such as yoghurt, buttermilk or any milk mixed with lemon juice or vinegar. This is an age-old baker’s technique to improve lightness and moistness, while it also increases the digestibility of grains. The method can be utilised to produce an exchange for yoghurt and buttermilk in all baking recipes.

1¾ cups rice flour*
1 cup tapioca flour*
¼ cup soy or chickpea flour*
1½ tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp guar gum or xanthan gum*
1 tsp sea salt with kelp*
Sweet and Savoury Variations:

a) ¾ cup raisins, currants or chopped dates;
b) 2 teaspoons caraway seeds;
c) 2 Tbsp freshly roasted cumin seeds;
d) 2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (eg rosemary and sage, or thyme and parsley); or mix herbs and seeds.
2 Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
270 ml Milk Option* (soy, oat – may have gluten traces; or mostly rice milk
mixed with 3 Tbsp oil)
1 large free range egg
2 Tbsp honey
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl, along with 1 of the variations. Make a well in the centre. To sour the milk place the lemon/vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough milk to make 300 ml – the milk will curdle. Place milk in the well with the egg and honey. With a fork beat the wet ingredients together. Stir in the dry ingredients just until a soft moist dough forms – don’t over-mix.

Lightly sprinkle extra rice flour on a wooden board. Dry hands and flour them. Briefly and gently form into smooth round loaf about 5cm high and 18cm across– too much kneading will toughen it. Place on baking tray lightly dusted with rice flour. Cut 2 crossing lines across bread’s circumference and a short shallow cut in between each quadrant (the Irish say they did this to let the fairies out – it also helps even baking). Brush with a little oil to brown the crust.

Bake at 220ºC (450ºF) for 5 minutes to help it rise. Turn oven to 180ºC (350º F) for 35-40 minutes just until cooked. Test the centre with a skewer for dryness, or tap the base – it will sound hollow when cooked. Cool on a wire rack. Serve hot or at room temperature. Top with Better Butter, avocado or almond butter.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*

• Guar Gum: Adding a small amount of guar gum (ground seed from an Indian legume) or xanthan gum (a white powder made from fermented corn) to breads and pastry helps them bind without dry and crumbly results, common to gluten-free products. They are available from health stores.

• Rice flour:
for baking use finely ground (can be called ‘zentrofan’) whole rice. Results will not be the same with coarse, gritty flour; or Asian rice flour (from starch only; looks sticky like cornflour*). Use brown rice flour (finely milled; not gritty). Or mix ½ brown rice flour (for increased nutrients); ½ white rice flour (for increased lightness) as preferred. For sauces 2-3 Tbsp thickens 1 cup liquid.

• Sea salt:
is sea water dehydrated by sun. When mixed with seaweed (containing iodine and other minerals low in our soil) it is ideal in terms of flavour (interesting but not too strong) and mineral balance. Try Pacific Harvest or Malcolm Harker brands; both in health and gourmet stores. Ordinary salt is taken from mines or sea and so highly refined over extreme heat that it contains nothing but sodium chloride. All other minerals are stripped away, such as potassium and magnesium which help regulate fluid balance and blood pressure. Bleach as a whitener and chemicals to prevent clumping may be added to table salt.

• Soy flour or chickpea flour: these add golden colour, binding ability and markedly increased protein and calcium content. Most supermarkets stock these. Legume flours taste bitter when raw so batter-lickers are warned. If you cannot use legumes then to help with binding and minimise crumbliness add 1 tsp guar gum (a white powder from ground guar seed), or 1 tsp xanthan gum (a white powder made from fermented corn) per standard size cake, loaf or pastry recipe. These are available in health stores. Replace the quantity of legume flour called for with equivalent rice flour, cornflour or tapioca flour.

• Tapioca Flour:
Tapioca flour is very light and starchy like cornflour/cornstarch. Such ingredients help create gluten-free products that are light and easier to rise in volume. Buy it from Asian food stores, health stores and some supermarkets.

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