March 18, 2011

Bread and words

You know how I was rhapsodizing about journals some months ago, with a brief stint into the allure of Moleskines? Well, after some internet research and reading product reviews and much mental debating, I finally bought myself a journal yesterday, but it's not a Moleskine (nor a composition book). I've found something much better that's considerably more affordable and just as aesthetically pleasing. I've found a Piccadilly. For reference, this one in particular.

The simple design, a smooth black cover, creamy white pages ruled in a soft charcoal gray, and thin black stretch band to hold it shut, appeals to me in its basic functionality and also its anonymity. Something that basic and non-attention grabbing doesn't scream "read me" to wandering eyes. Plus, it looks more professional than, say, some flashy spiral notebook covered in hearts or cartoon characters, which is basically a sign that reads either high school student or undergraduate fresh out of high school. That's not quite the look I'm going for, especially since people mistake me all the time for being in high school still.

Any way, I'm excited with my new journal, as nerdy as it may sound to be excited about something like that. The blank page may still loom ominously, but it feels good to take a step toward tackling this issue I have with writing, that of resisting it, as much as I seriously want to write. Now there aren't any excuses not to, since I've spent money on something that's supposed to inspire and require me to.

And so, to thank you for reading my rambling, I have a recipe for you, appropriate for the season, one I've been meaning to post for the past week but have unfortunately been sidetracked from doing until now, albeit a little late for your St. Patrick's Day festivities: brown butter soda bread. I've never been one to seriously celebrate the day, even if I am partly Irish, but I'll use it as an excuse for baking soda bread all the same.

Before any one accuses me of making untraditional soda bread (the horror) -- I am only partly Irish and completely American, you know -- the flavor of this one should stop you in your tracks and cause you to sit down and ask for more. If food tastes good, then it's good food, whether or not it's traditional. With that being said, I also made a fairly traditional brown soda bread with the leftover buttermilk that was pretty darn tasty and could have easily vied for this spot on the blog. Being raised on it, I've always been partial to wheat breads. However, the white soda bread wins the day because it has browned butter and rosemary for aromatics, black pepper for a slight kick, and a handful of oats thrown in for texture. Even a soda bread that's been tampered with deserves some attention.

Be extremely gentle when kneading the dough and don't overwork it. It's a little messy, but the effort pays off in the end: with as little kneading as possible, you'll have a tender soda bread in your hands, best eaten smeared with salted butter. Soda bread is also best eaten the day it's baked. After a day, it stales quickly.

Brown Butter Soda Bread
Adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2006

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten to blend

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture, and stir with a fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto a generously floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about seven turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball, and flatten each into a 6-inch round. Place rounds on baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with the beaten egg white. Using a small sharp knife, cut a
½-inch-deep X in the top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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