March 09, 2011

soup and soda bread

I have been wanting to tackle baking my own bread for a little while now. My general theory is why buy it when you can bake it, and bread fits squarely in that category. It consists of few ingredients, all available in your local grocery store, but yet remains one of the few baked items that I buy and don't make at home. I don't expect to waltz into my kitchen and whip up a flawless San Francisco sourdough, but I do aspire to bake a crusty french baguette and perhaps a nice ciabatta. Considering Saint Patrick's day is upon us I decided to start with an Irish Soda bread, which consists of very few ingredients and can be made by following a very simple recipe. I should be honest, my desire to bake bread is really fueled by my desire to find a means by which to eat more swiss butter. Irish soda bread is perfect for butter and a little raspberry jam.
This isn't the first time I've said this and I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll say it, but I think spring is here! The last two days have been beautiful in Zürich, sunny and warm. I probably shouldn't say anything, let alone type it because I'm sure it will start snowing the moment I post this entry
On my way to Zug to meet Zach for lunch I happened upon a farmer's market in the main train station here in Zürich. I was running to catch the train so I didn't really get to explore, but it looks incredibly promising and if nothing else there were bratwursts grilling on an open flame ready to be eaten with some spicy mustard and rösti. By the way, did you know that in German you capitalize every noun, not just proper nouns, so really Train, Bratwurst and Rosti should be capitalized...weird huh?
The veggies at the farmer's market inspired me to make a veggie soup to go along with the Irish Soda bread. Something healthy to offset all the butter.
this soup is so easy - just chop a bunch of veggies and throw them in a pot with some water and then eat.
I found this recipe in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Mark Bittman wrote a mini article about how easy and simple soup is to make, and he's right, it's really, almost stupidly easy. He outlines 4 simple soups and then generates 3 more soups from each of those recipes by adjusting the ingredients a bit. I chose to make the basic minestrone. I adapted the recipe a bit (more veggies and a bit of chicken broth for flavor) but overall the recipe is very similar to the one he provided. Can you tell I like Mark Bittman? I feel like I use his recipes for almost every recipe post.

- 1 sweet onion
- 2 carrots
- 6 chopped celery stalks
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 cups chopped potatoes
- 1 cup chopped tomato or canned
- salt and pepper to taste
- 5 cups water
- chicken broth to taste if desired

Chop the onion, carrots and celery and place in a pot with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the finely sliced garlic and cook over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes or until onions are slightly translucent. Toss in the potatoes, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, follow with the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Pour in the 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling lower the heat and allow to simmer until potatoes are cooked.

On to the soda bread!
The essential ingredient in Irish Soda bread is the baking soda. It turns out that baking soda, like it's close relative baking powder, is not a common grocery store commodity here in Switzerland. That's not really true, you can buy it in the stores but it is often hidden in the baking aisle, packaged in teeny tiny little packages, just asking to be misunderstood or forgotten. That little pink packet in the above photos is the baking soda, otherwise known as Natron - bicarbonate de sodium.
This recipe is from my other favorite chef/cook book, Alice Water's Art of Simple Food. Like the soup recipe, this recipe is extremely basic and quick.

- 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar (my addition)
- 2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk and more if needed. The dough should be smooth, but not wet and sticky. Do not over knead. Really you don't need to knead at all. Just shape the dough in a a disc and place on a baking sheet and shape until the disc is roughly 1 1/2 inches high. Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, making sure to cut all the way to the edge - this cross will help the bread rise. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 450 for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 400 and bake for another 30 minutes. The bread will be done when you tap on the bottom and the loaf sounds hollow.
I returned to Zürich loaded down with American magazines. Since we don't have a TV, it's nice to curl up with a good mag.
I really do believe soda bread was invented as a medium through which to eat butter. It's delicious, especially when the bread is still hot and steaming and the butter melts into the nooks and crannies. It's a miracle Zach was able to eat dinner considering that he ate two big slices with butter and raspberry jam when he got home from work.

It's 11:20 and I should try and get some sleep, but really it's only 5:20 in the states and I'm just not tired yet.


  1. Talley, Your freshly baked bread and veggie soup looks amazing and delicious. I'd love you to bake fresh bread for us when you are next home. Love the soup also. xoxoxM

  2. the bread looks so beautiful! I have yet to venture into bread! Its just too easy to buy great fresh bread in Europe! On the other hand, I have been really in desperate need of a good bakery here in LA so I should try your recipe. what's buttermilk in German btw?

  3. Talley, beautiful post as always! You've inspired me to try the soda bread recipe this weekend. Wish me luck!


    PS. the pairing of robert pattinson and soda bread w/ butter...a delicious combination.

  4. Tal, your meal looks AMAZING! You should try the no-kneed bread recipe in Bittman's book. I've done it a few times and it never fails---crusty and delicious!

  5. Is it weird that I want to know where you got your utensils from?