Did you know that in France you can only get baking soda in the pharmacy? You can scan the supermarket all you want, but unless you’re in Paris in pricey shops like La Grande Épicerie de Paris or maybe Lafayette Gourmet, you will have to be very lucky to spot it in a regular supermarket even in Paris. And I’m talking of just your typical recognisable orange box. The only kind imported (is there any other kind? haha)
So, I was a good girl and went and asked in a pharmacy if I could please get some baking soda. I had to make sure that it is the one for baking, hahah not for other purposes… haha (plus I was disappointed that the Irish store in town didn’t have any. They had some baking powder. Hello, soda bread?! Why would even an Irish person in a fit of nostalgia be buying baking powder imported? Anywho, I had the feeling they had missed the point…) Also, I might add that getting your baking soda from the pharmacy, WAAY cheaper than getting the “expensive” orange box.
I’ve noticed that baking soda is used more in N. American baking recipes than here. Probably why it doesn’t even exist in the supermarket…. It led me to thinking and reading why and when one uses one or the other or both. I was enthralled. If only my high school chemistry teacher put the lessons through the prism of food and cooking, I would been far more appreciative of her class. Apparently, we use baking soda when we’re baking something that has some acid inside, whether lemon juice or buttermilk, because using just baking powder would make a chemical reaction. Now, the dosages of said baking powder and acid in the recipes are not that large in order for you to have an explosion in the oven, but you never know (I should’ve remembered my own “experiment” when I was younger and asked my mother why didn’t she dilute the baking powder in the lemon juice she reserved. I didn’t trust her when she said that it’ll create a chemical reaction and she said to go ahead and try. Sure thing, the moment the baking powder hit the lemon juice, it started to foam up… Hmmm…. Interesting….) I have noticed that things rise just a tad bit differently if you use only baking powder or a mix of both, but seriously when I don’t have baking soda I just omit it and double the amount of baking powder (maybe a true baker here will start pulling his/her hair) but I am telling you, it’s ok! Plus, this is why the cooking cocoa here is a darker, richer colour, because it is the Dutch-processed cocoa, with a neutralized acidity and you can bake with baking powder. Whereas in N. America you mostly find the natural cocoa powder and you need to use some baking soda in the mix. (you can read more about this on David Lebovitz’s website, I find it very educational! :-))
Before I get all carried away, the first thing I wanted to do was soda bread. I have been nagging my Irish friend to give me his recipe, which he has before, but I keep losing it. He still hasn’t responded back to me, so I found a recipe on David Lebovitz’s site. He uses also some wheat bran/germ but he said it made the bread heavier, and advises to leave it out if we want to. I could have included it, together with changing the molasses with some honey, but I wanted to make something that is closer to my friend’s recipe, which is nothing fancy at all. David advises that if we do omit the wheat bran, to reduce the buttermilk by a splash. Mine was not coming together, it was this sloppy mess and I added the whole buttermilk quantity. It was sticky and sloppy no matter what, but because I remembered “reduce by a splash” and it was already late for that, I added two heaping teaspoons of flour, which didn’t make much of a difference. I do have the feeling that they really weren’t required in the end. No matter what kind of insanely sticky blob this was, I was bent on baking it and that was that. It did come out baked and all. But pale as a baby’s bottom. I did bake it on a traditional oven setting and not convection and it was still pale. Oh well…
I used T55 white flour, and T110 light whole wheat flour, just like David’s recipe. I am going to check out a organic food store here to see if I can find anything darker because this is so lightly whole wheat I debate to call it whole wheat.
All in all, this is attempt #1 and attempt#2 will be once I get my friend’s recipe. I forget to mention I made half of David’s dose because his makes two loaves, I have plenty from one.
2 1/4 cups (250g) whole wheat flour (I used 125 gr)
2 3/4 cups (120g) wheat bran or wheat germ, or a combination (omitted this entirely)
4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour (I used 250 gr)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (I used 3/4 tsp)
1 teaspoon salt (pinch of salt)
2 ounces (60g) butter, salted or unsalted (I used 30 gr)
2 1/2 cups (600ml) buttermilk (I used 300 ml, should’ve used a tad bit less maybe….)
2 teaspoons molasses (I omitted this entirely)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
2. Sift the flours together, add the baking soda and the salt and stir.
3. Cut the butter in squares and work it in the flour using your fingers, until as small as possible, but don’t overdo it and melt the butter with the heat from the fingers.
4. Add the buttermilk, until the dough is uniformly damp and knead of a floured worksurface for a few minutes, David suggests. Mine as I said was a sloppy, gloopy mess, no kneading was possible. Maybe I was supposed to still turn it onto a floured surface, add some flour and knead. But I am always reluctant to add more flour. See, even if it was sloppy, I regret adding those 2 heaping teaspoons of flour. I guess if you add the buttermilk slowly, you might see you don’t need all of it.
5. Place the dough on a baking sheet, either covered with a sheet of parchment paper or use a nonstick one.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes. I inserted a knife to see if it’s done, I mean, considering my experience, I treated it as a cake.
*I am not saying it’s not tasty. And toasted, mmmm… it’s quite nice. It goes very well had like that or with a little bit of butter and some more of that delicious buttermilk! 🙂