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Northern Ireland: Tips from a Master Baker

Northern Ireland: Tips from a Master Baker
Carol Wilson: Northern Ireland remains the only place still baking veda bread today. A dark, soft textured loaf made with malted flour, it’s reputed to be a great cure for a hangover.
 
A visit to Northern Ireland is unthinkable without trying the region’s unique foods, particularly the variety of delicious breads, which lie at the heart of their traditional baking: soda breads and farls, potato and griddle breads, wheaten bread and the distinctive Veda bread.
 
I watched some traditional Northern Irish bread making, expertly demonstrated by Krazi Baker, Mark Douglas and picked up some invaluable tips.
 
Soda bread is made using buttermilk, (the liquid left after making butter) which gives it a light texture and distinctive flavour.  Plain yogurt is a good substitute if you can’t find buttermilk. The raising agents are bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar, which react with the acids in the buttermilk. The action is very quick so it’s essential to cook the bread immediately on a hot griddle or heavy frying pan. The secret of really good soda bread is to work quickly and handle the dough gently, so you don’t activate the gluten in the flour. Mark adds a little oil or melted butter to the mix to give a softer texture to the finished bread.
 
Plain potato bread started out in the late nineteenth century as a means of using leftover mashed potatoes, the potato being a staple of the Northern Irish diet. Potato bread is usually eaten at breakfast, fried as part of a traditional Ulster fry, but is also delicious toasted and buttered. Potato Apple bread is a speciality of the Krazi Bakery – a mashed potato and flour dough is cut into farls (quarters) and a filling of stewed Bramley apples (from Armagh) and sometimes cinnamon and sultanas is put into the centre. The dough is folded over the filling and crimped (like a pasty) then baked on the griddle.
 
Until the 20th century, few homes  in the UK possessed an oven, but everyone owned a stone or iron slab that could be set over an iron tripod placed in the fire on the hearth.
 
Veda bread was created around 1904 by Scot, Robert Graham in Gleneagles and was baked all over the UK; however, Northern Ireland remains the only place still baking the bread today. A dark soft textured loaf made with malted flour, it’s reputed to be a great cure for a hangover!
 
Wheaten bread is soda bread made with a special coarse brown wholewheat flour and has a wonderful nutty flavour and soft texture. Black treacle is sometimes added to the mix to make the popular Treacle Wheaten Bread, which gives the bread a distinct, (but not overpowering) molasses flavour.
 
Many Northern Irish bakers are adding their own twist to the basic soda bread recipe by adding popular Irish foods such as seaweed or finely chopped black pudding to the dough.
 
Soda Farls
Heat the griddle or pan while you make the farls. Sprinkle a little flour on the griddle or pan and when it turns golden, the temperature is correct.
 
Ingredients
350g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250-325ml buttermilk
A little sunflower oil or melted butter
 
Method
Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the buttermilk at once, followed by the oil or butter. Mix to a firm dough, but don’t overwork.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. Pat or roll into a round, no more than 1cm thick. Cut into quarters and place on the hot griddle for 6-10 minutes until risen and a skin forms on the surface. Turn the farls over and cook for a further 6-10 minutes until cooked through and a light beige colour. They should sound hollow when tapped. Best eaten fresh on the day they’re made.
 
Mark Douglas
Krazi Baker
53 The Priory
Dromore
Co.Down
BT25 1TP
 
Carol Wilson’s new cookbook: The Bacon Cookbook: More Than Just Breakfast - 50 Irresistible Recipes for All-day Eating is published by Lorenz Books (30 Oct 2014).   
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16 January 2015
By: Carol Wilson
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