It’s a glorious summer day, the sunshine warming one’s back and adding a spring to the step. The kind of day where you’d be daft to not pack up a picnic and trot off to the closest park/beach/nature reserve. Have work? No issue, throw down a picnic rug in the backyard when you get home and make dinner a picnic affair. If you live anywhere like Melbourne, the climate is darn unpredictable – hot one day, stormy the next and grey drizzle the following. So embrace the glorious weather while it’s there! A staple of any decent picnic is bread. Yes, there’s couscous, quiche, pasta salad and other starch/carbohydrate based meals galore – all brilliant in their own right – but it’s nigh on impossible to beat a freshly baked loaf of bread. It needn’t be of your own making, especially if you’re pressed for time, and even if you do have the minutes up your sleeve it needn’t be fancy or tear-your-hair-out difficult. Welcome to the world of soda bread!
With a preparation process similar to that of scones, you’re barely straying into unfamiliar ground. A vote of confidence, no? This particular specimen is loaded with cheddar cheese (as strong or as mild as you like), producing a heavenly moist crumb and rich flavour. It may be made completely with plain flour, rather than half plain/half wholemeal, however the nutty flavour from the wholemeal balances well with the cheese. Add a pinch of paprika and solid grind of black pepper if you fancy a little more spice in your life!
You’ll be hard pressed to leave the bread alone while it’s cooling – I can’t help but carve a little off the side to smother in butter while it’s still warm. Depending on the type of cheddar you use the bread may be on the slightly moister side of things as you reach the middle, but it’s still perfectly edible – it’s just due to the fat content and properties of the cheese, and adds an interesting twist to the loaf!
Best eaten within two days of baking (toast thereon after), it is delicious topped with lettuce, fresh tomato and pickles, or sundried tomato, or homemade chutney or simply slathered with butter. Go on, grab that picnic blanket, wrap up a loaf of this Cheddar Soda bread, arm yourself with a bread knife, your toppings of choice, a sexy salad or two and and go on your merry way!
Cheddar Soda Bread
Makes one 20cm diameter circular loaf.
200g plain flour
200g whole-wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
250g cheddar cheese, finely grated
Approximately 350ml buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Sift the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt into a large bowl. Stir through the caster sugar.
Rub in the butter using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the cheddar cheese until evenly incorporated. Pour in the buttermilk in a steady stream, using a flat bladed knife to cut/stir it in. The mixture will appear quite dry, however with a little kneading it will come together.
Turn out onto a floured surface (you will need quite a lot of room) and gently knead until the mixture just comes together. Shape into a large round and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross in the top of the round.
Bake for approximately 50-60 minutes or until hollow when tapped and the center appears cooked. If the bread browns too quickly, loosely cover with a piece of aluminium foil. Transfer the soda bread to a wire rack and leave to cool.
Serve fresh or toasted with your choice of toppings or accompaniments. Try lettuce, tomato and pickles or slather in butter or homemade chutney or Vegemite (if you live in Australia).
Source: A Taste Without Waste Original.