by Lee Jackson
On March 17, St. Patrick's Day, everybody claims to be a wee bit Irish. Along with the wearing of the green, there are many traditions and activities that help celebrate the life of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. You can help your child enter into the spirit of Irish lore by preparing foods associated with this feast day.
In her award winning cookbook, Cooking Around the Calendar With Kids -- Holiday and Seasonal Food and Fun, Amy Houts includes many foods you can make with your child to commemorate this special day. Irish Soda Bread is an easy bread recipe from this children/adult cookbook that uses baking soda instead of yeast to make the bread rise. Knowing a little about Ireland geography, growing conditions, and types of grains made into flour helps to see why this was a popular early choice.
Most grains such as wheat, corn, rye, barley, millet and others can be made into flour. Some grow better under certain climactic conditions than others. Because of its location and temperature, most of the grain grown in early Ireland was of the soft wheat variety.
Soft wheat flours make tender cakes, pie crusts, muffins, pancakes, dumplings, and other food products which are leavened, or made light, by using baking soda and baking powder. Yeast needs a hard wheat flour to make food products rise and give them strength and structure. The two proteins in wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin, when combined with water, form sheets of gluten. These elastic sheets trap and hold the air bubbles as the dough is mixed and kneaded. Yeast produces millions of bubbles of gas which inflate the trapped air bubbles. The dough then becomes lighter and begins to rise.
The right flour makes an incredible difference in the quality of food products. Now we can buy cake flour, instant flours, bleached and unbleached all-purpose flours, bread flour and others that are proportioned for different products by millers. But before this flour technology came about, consumers needed to adapt different leavening agents to the type of flour being used.
Baking soda, baking powder, yeast, and steam or air are the chief leavening agents that make foods light. Baking soda and baking powder are known as chemical leaveners. They both produce carbon dioxide gas that helps leaven muffins, cakes, quick breads, and so on. Baking soda is most often combined with a mild acid such as buttermilk, sour cream, citrus juice, and others. The addition of a mild acid such as this makes the baking soda work faster and a better flavored product develops. Some food products such as cream puffs, popovers, and other cakes and pastries use steam to rise. Water in the dough or batter turns to steam in the hot oven and makes the food light. Air beaten into egg whites is the principle leaven of omelets, souffles, and sponge cakes.
It is not known when leaven was first used to help make baked goods rise, but the Egyptians are given credit for the first accounts of it. The Greeks and Romans made bread with leaven but used a fermenting process. The origin of baking powders is not known, although the first one was patented in 1837. They were not as convenient to use as those we know today as they came in two parts - hydrochloric acid and soda - and the two needed to be measured out separately and added. Not until almost the beginning of the twentieth century were the materials mixed together with cornstarch, packed in a tin can, and labeled baking powder.
Baking soda is four times stronger than baking powder - a little baking soda goes a long ways. Generally, for each cup of flour, use ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. You would use about 1 to 1 ¼ teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour. Using too much baking powder actually makes baked goods fall, which sounds strange. But the bubbles get big, float to the top, and pop. Then the product falls and is heavy.
Now, you can toss in a little science discussion as well as history as you work with your child in making this delicious Irish bread. You can talk about the reason for using buttermilk as well as the baking soda in this recipe. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, for each one cup measurement, you can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and enough milk to make one cup, or in this recipe use 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and enough milk to equal 1 ½ cups.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet.
Children can measure and stir together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and stir in buttermilk. Dough should form a ball.
On a floured board or cloth, children can knead and shape dough into a round loaf, about 8 inches across. Place dough in the center of the cookie sheet. Score bread dough with a sharp knife; make an X about 1/2-inch deep. (The X is supposed to ward off the devil). Bake for about 40 minutes, until brown. Serve hot.
Yield: 1 loaf
And, in true Irish fashion, as you work you can discuss the significance of the shamrock* in Irish culture and the meaning behind this well-known Irish phrase, "may the wind always be at your back"*.
This recipe and other food and fun suggestions can be found in Cooking Around the Calendar With Kids -- Holiday and Seasonal Food and Fun. This is a fun book you can read and use with your child all year long.
*Shamrock -- three leaf clover used to illustrate the Christian trinity of God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit but one God.
* "May the wind always be at your back" -- indicates you wish the very best to another. You wish no harm to come to them and to stay steady on their right path.
This cookbook/activity book is available directly from the publisher, Images Unlimited Publishing, P.O. Box 305, Maryville, MO 64468 or through their website http://imagesunlimitedpub.com. Cost $12.95 (softcover) and $24.95 (hardcover) each plus shipping. (Mo residents add 7.475% tax). mailto: [email protected]