Bread for communion part IV: Irish Soda Bread

One of the things I love about my church is that each new pastor adds their own flair.  Just for example, in the past five years we’ve had one pastor (Ben), a transitional pastor for six months (Stephen), and a husband-wife pastor team (Marty and Robin).  Even though the church is Baptist in denomination, Ben taught at Catholic University and many members of the congregation were former Catholics.  He introduced some of the Catholic rituals, such as Ash wednesday and communion by intinction.  Then, Stephen introduced a time during the service for the congregation to share joys and burdens.  Marty and Robin, our current pastors, have introduced a Blue Christmas service for those who are grieving during the Christmas season, and are now hosting a Shrove Tuesday event.

What is Shrove Tuesday?  Until recently, I had no idea!  It’s basically the British Isles’ version of Mardi Gras and Carnival. You serve pancakes and have pancake races.  I’ve read that pancakes are traditional because they use up milk and eggs before the period of Lent.

As you can see from the title, this article is not about pancakes.  I’ve already written about my favorite pancake recipe here.

Reading about the British Isles made me start thinking about Irish Soda Bread!

It turns out, I’ve actually written about Irish Soda Bread before.  But this is very different.  I decided to go with a traditional recipe this time, without the raisins and orange zest since it’s only for display purposes.  That said, since trying out this recipe for the blog I’ve made it three more times.  It’s a great breakfast bread since it has the taste and texture of a biscuit, and it bakes up quickly.

According to this NYT article, Irish Soda Bread typically only has four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt.  So that’s what I went with.

Where I deviated from this NYT recipe is that they suggest using a baking sheet.  The comments said you should use a cast iron skillet instead.  I tried the cast iron skillet method and found the top of the loaf browned way too quickly in the high heat.  So I tried again using my dutch oven and the loaf came out perfectly.

You will need:

450 grams all-purpose flour, I used a mix of bread flour and AP flour.  I’ve also thrown in some whole wheat and pastry flour at times and it’s turned out fine.

3 grams sea salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
4 grams baking soda (about 3/4 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, more as needed.

A note about the buttermilk:  I don’t buy buttermilk anymore.  The first time I tried this recipe, I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to whole milk and let it sit for an hour to curdle.  The second time, I used a cup of plain yogurt and a 1/2 cup of milk. Both worked out fine and served the same function.  You just need something acidic to create the chemical leavening reaction with the baking soda.

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and slide your dutch oven into the cold oven to warm up.

2. Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

3. Pour the buttermilk (or milk concoction) into the flour mixture and use a clean hand to mix everything together.   The dough is pretty sticky, so use a folding motion.  Let the dough sit while you clean your hands.

4. Cut a square of parchment and transfer your dough to the parchment.  Gently fold the dough until it forms a smooth loaf.  Flatten it down until it’s about 1 1/2 inches tall all around.  This was one of my mistakes the first time around.  I shaped it into a ball and it really didn’t work.



5. When it’s time for the loaf to go into the oven, take a knife and cut a large, deep cross in the top.  Transfer the loaf to the dutch oven and bake, with the lid on, for 15 minutes.

6.  After 15 minutes have elapsed, remove the dutch oven lid, drop the temperature to 400, and continue baking another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf is brown and it makes a satisfying thump when tapped.

7.  You can eat this bread warm or let it cool.  The bread is more like a biscuit or scone than a regular loaf of bread.  I like it toasted with butter and jam (as does Little Bread Toddler).

8.  I don’t know if anyone on Sunday will necessarily appreciate my thought process for making Irish Soda Bread, but I do think they will appreciate when I try something new.  After all, we call ourselves an uncommon church 🙂

If people like the Irish Soda Bread pieces during communion, it may become a regular recipe I use.  It’s easy, the texture is nice and soft, and did I mention it’s easy?

Bread for communion by intinction part III: making the bread bowl

Now that I have detailed the process for making my “look pretty” and “be tasty” loaves, I will post here about how to make the workhorse of the whole intinction set-up: the bread bowl.

Again, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here to learn about the project and what communion by intinction looks like at my church.

If you just want a recipe for decent challah, click here.

If you want to learn how to incorporate fats while developing your own bread recipe, click here.

Ok, now that that’s over, I will tell you why you need this bread bowl.  It will become your favorite vehicle for dips and soups.  Not to mention tiny pieces of bread, if you find yourself ever needing to prepare bread for communion by intinction.

What is great about this recipe is that it uses a combination of bread flour and AP flour, and doesn’t have any fat.  These two factors make the gluten development really strong so it can hold more and won’t fall apart while the inside crumb is being hollowed out.

You will need:

375g of bread flour
375g of AP flour
500g of water
14g of salt
14g of yeast

That’s it!

Put the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until it forms a rough dough.

Let the dough sit for about fifteen minutes, then knead a little.  It should be much smoother.  Shape it into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit until doubled in size.

After it has risen once, punch it down and transfer it to a piece of parchment paper and cover it with plastic wrap.  Throw your dutch oven into the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees F.

When the oven is preheated, take the plastic wrap off and put your dough (and parchment) into the dutch oven with the lid on.  Bake for 25 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and cook another 15 minutes until the dough is golden and hard when you tap it with your fingernail.

Let the loaf cool completely, then use a sharp knife to cut a circle around the top and remove it.  Use your hands to pull out the rest, working around the sides and the bottom to make it even.  Once you hollow it out, it will look like this:

If you accidentally cut through the bottom or sides of the bread bowl, don’t worry.  You can hide a small bowl inside and no one will know!

Here it is all filled up with bread.  I had to measure it to make sure it held about 80 pieces of bread, about this size:

My brother and Little Bread Toddler ate all the hollowed-out bread.  So no saved bread crumbs for me.  That’s ok though, I still have a lot left over from the last bread bowl 🙂

Bread for communion by intinction part II, now with more bread math!

Here is the post where I tell you how I came up with the recipe for my “look pretty” loaf for my church’s communion by intinction tomorrow!

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here.

In the last post, I gave you the recipe for the challah, which I cut up and used to fill the bread bowl.  The challah is the part that people will actually eat.  It’s the “be tasty” loaf.

The “look pretty” loaf is the one that sits on the table in the front of the sanctuary, and which the pastor holds up and tears in half while telling the story of the Last Supper.  Its entire job is to look nice and be tear-able.

How do you make a loaf that tears easily?  Well, you need to add some sort of fat to enrich it.  I’m no food scientist, but I know that fat tenderizes the dough, making it easier to tear.  Fats can include milk, butter, oil, or eggs.

However, you can’t just throw these into a dough and call it a day.  They contribute to the overall hydration of the dough in indirect ways that need to be compensated for.

This is a job for…. bread math!

I decided I was going to add milk and an egg to soften my usual simplified 1-2-3 dough.  Here is how I did it:

My 1-2-3 loaf uses 375g of flour and 250g of water.  So the milk and egg would need to be a part of the 250g of water.

First, I figured out that milk is considered 82% hydration and an egg is 75% hydration.  That means they are 82% and 75% water respectively, and the rest is fat (or protein).

So in order to keep my 60% hydration level, I would have to measure the milk and egg by weight and calculate 82% of the milk and 75% of the egg and add them together along with some more water to equal 250g.

Here is my equation (if you can’t see in the above photo):

(milk * .82) + (egg * .75) + (water) = 250g

The egg was 57g, so 75% of the egg’s weight would be 42.75g.

I measured out some milk and it was 125g, so 82% was about 100g.

Now the equation looked like this:

(100) + (43) + (water) = 250g

So I needed 106g of water to reach 250g!

Along with the 375g of flour and 250g of water (and egg and milk) you should add about 7g of salt and 7g of yeast.  Salt and yeast don’t change the hydration; only flour and water do.

All mixed up, it looked like this:

I covered it with plastic wrap and gave it a few stretch and folds once an hour or so, making sure the gluten was developing correctly.  It took about five hours to fully rise.  Here it is looking all smooth once the dough had time to rest and then the gluten strands started to form.

After the first rise, transfer to a piece of parchment paper and let rise another hour while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  I’ve found that enriched breads do better at lower temperatures than in the screaming hot temperatures that lean doughs seem to love.  Oh, and throw your dutch oven into the oven as well.

The dough was really sticky still so I covered it with flour.

When the dough is ready, score the top with a sharp knife and put it in the dutch oven with the lid on.  Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

Yay!  Pretty bread is pretty!

When your bread has cooled down, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in your bag along with the bread bowl and your cut up challah pieces to bring over to the church.

Stay tuned for the third and final segment in this series on making bread for communion by intinction: making the bread bowl!

Thanksgiving and preparing bread for communion by intinction

As most of my readers know, this week we celebrated Thanksgiving.  With my parents living far away, our Thanksgiving crew included my siblings, in-laws, an aunt and her family who live in Baltimore, and some friends who have become family.  We cooked up a storm and ate tons of delicious food.  Then on Friday Little Bread Toddler allowed us to sleep in and we had a lazy day: running simple errands, window shopping for houses, and going to the playground.  Oh, and preparing communion bread for the first Sunday of December.

Those of you who don’t know the history of why I make bread for my church, click here.

This week is special because we are observing communion by intinction.  Catholics are familiar with the practice- it’s the dipping of the bread into the wine during communion.  As Baptists we don’t do it very often- usually the bread is passed around and eaten, then the wine (grape juice) is passed around and consumed.  But sometimes we do intinction when we are feeling particularly like communing with each other.

I’ve prepared the bread for intinction a couple of times now.  When my pastor first asked me to make it, I thought it would be no big deal.  I just made two loaves like I always do, and people could tear off a piece of the loaf and dip it.

Then the complaints started.

People did not like having to touch and eat bread that had been touched by other people, even though those other people were congregants and had been worshiping side by side with them for years.

Even though the whole point of intinction was a sense of community.

The irony was strong with this one.

But the people had spoken.  So the pastor and I cooked up a solution: I would hollow out a loaf of bread in the style of a bread bowl, cut the inside (the “crumb” in baker speak) into small chunks and put it back in the bread bowl so people could pluck a piece out instead of having to tear it.

Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work out so well.  The pieces I was able to hollow out were misshapen and didn’t result in enough pieces.  I ended up making three loaves: one to look pretty, one to be tasty, and one for the bread bowl.

Now that I’ve made bread for intinction a few times, I have it down to a science.  But it took a few tries to get it right.

I started out by making my “look pretty” and “bread bowl” loaves using my simplified 1-2-3 recipe and the “be pretty” loaf using Ina Garten’s Honey White Bread recipe.  But I’ve since stopped using the 1-2-3 recipe for communion bread.

The thing is, the 1-2-3 bread is crusty due to its lack of fat, and the first time I saw the pastor manhandling my “look pretty” loaf to get it to tear in half, I was mortified.  It requires a softer, more tear-able dough, which I will detail in a subsequent post.  I still use 1-2-3 for the bread bowl, but I’ve learned to double the recipe to hold all the pieces.  I freeze the hollowed-out part for bread crumbs.

For the “be tasty” loaf, I switch back and forth between Ina Garten’s Honey White and the Joy of Cooking’s challah.  I find challah holds up better during intinction because the gluten really gets a chance to develop so it doesn’t fall apart in the cup when it gets soaked with wine.  So that’s what I’ve learned in a year of making communion bread.

Here’s a picture of all the loaves rising on the counter.

And here’s one with the towels taken off.

Bread Maiden’s Challah (adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1997)

You will need:
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup AP flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups bread flour

1. Mix together the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Let it get bubbly, about five minutes.

2. Add the AP flour, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and salt and mix until combined.

3. Add the bread flour a little at a time.  When it’s all in, switch to the bread hook and knead for another 8-10 minutes until it’s soft but not sticky.

4. Oil a bowl and move the dough to the bowl, flipping the dough to coat it all over with oil.  Cover and let rest for a few hours.

5. Grease a bread pan with butter.  Punch down the challah down, roll up into a long roll and cinch the end.  Transfer to the bread pan, cover and let rest another hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 375. Because you are going to be cutting up the loaf into little pieces, feel free to skip an egg wash.  Bake  until golden and delicious, about half an hour.  Once it’s cool, cut into tiny pieces (if you are preparing to use for communion.  If not, slice and eat!)

I was able to slice about 160 or so pieces from one loaf.  Your mileage may vary.  Cut down to size, this bread is chewy but still sweet.  It will be perfect for communion tomorrow.  Please stay tuned for my next posts about the recipe I made up for my “be pretty” communion loaf and the 1-2-3 double size bread bowl loaf!