I was going to bake you cupcakes. Really, I was planning to. Most, rich, sour cream cupcakes adapted from my Nana’s perfect and time-tested cake recipe. These cupcakes are everything you’ve hoped a cupcake would be. And I was going to bake them for you. That is, until Clara came to visit.
You see, Clara had never eaten a Sugar Sweet Sunshine cupcake. Sugar Sweet Sunshine, for those of you who don’t know, is a bakery in Manhattan that bakes perfect little bites of heavenly clouds. These cupcakes are light, they are fluffy, and they are perfectly flavored. These cupcakes are even so good that eating anything other than the vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream icing is almost sacrilege– why mess with perfection? The bakery, though, is so incredible that any cupcake combination they can dream up is also worth it and utterly scrumptious.
And even though my sour cream cupcakes are pretty damn good, they could never live up to anything from Sugar Sweet Sunshine. So I made you some bread instead.
You see, bread doesn’t have to compete. Bread is an everyday food, a comforting stand-by that just enhances everything you eat with it. You got butter? Bam, instantly better on good bread. Cheese? Also better with bread. Hell, you got salad? Soup? Treat yo’ self to some fancy bread croutons. Your possibilities are endless, especially with this soda bread.
Soda bread doesn’t need yeast, which means that it doesn’t need any time to rise. Assuming you have some buttermilk or yogurt lying around in your fridge, you can whip it up with very little notice or planning. It’s easy, it’s delicious, and you can dress it up or down as you see fit. And so, without further ado, go make yourself some bread and make your evening, morning, or whatever you’re doing more special.
Soda Bread with Dried Cherries
Note: This recipe is adapted from Jane Mason’s recipe in All You Knead is Bread. Please go check out her other recipes– they are excellent and easy for even novice bread bakers (like myself) to follow!
3¼ cups wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1⅔ cups buttermilk*
1 good handful of dried cherries (honestly, I prefer Kirkland brand)
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
Thoroughly mix 3 cups of the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, reserving the last ¼c of flour. Put this extra flour into a medium glass or bowl. On the side, roughly chop your cherries– they will be sticky, so be careful scraping them from your knife. Once chopped, crumble the cherry pieces into the last ¼ cup of flour and mix thoroughly to coat the fruit. This way, the cherries will not clump together in the bread. Once coated in the flour, incorporate the cherries and the remaining flour into the large bowl.
Add the buttermilk, sour milk, or yogurt-milk combination and mix well. The author notes that you may need to use your hands to incorporate the liquid, but do not knead or squash the bread as treating this dough “lightly” will also cause the bread to be light. Once incorporated, turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter.
Gently knead the dough once to bring it all together and form it into a ball. If your hands are sticking significantly to your dough ball, wet your hands slightly. Use a dough scraper to transfer your dough to a prepared baking sheet**, then use your palms to flatten your ball until it is a disc about 1½ inches high. Wet a sharp knife and cut an X into your disc, almost to the pan– this will allow the thick, dense bread to cook all the way through.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°F (200°C) and bake for another 15-20 minutes. The author does not mention how to tell when the bread is done, but I cut my loaf open a bit to see that the inside was cooked and not gummy before taking it out of the oven. When it is ready, transfer your bread to a wire rack to cool. Or, you know, not cool– I ate it straight from the oven and it was delicious.
*My mom keeps dried buttermilk in her fridge for situations like these, but I haven’t been able to find it yet. The author also suggests the following alternatives: sour milk; half plain yogurt and half full-fat milk; or milk with lemon juice and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. I used the yogurt-milk mixture in my bread, though I goofed and used the greek yogurt that we had in our fridge– if you end up going this route, be aware that you will need to add a good bit more milk to get your dough to the correct wetness.
**There are a few ways to prepare your baking sheet. Jane Mason suggests rubbing it down with some grease (like butter), but I can’t be bothered to deal with buttering a pan and so I spray mine with some Pam instead. I also like to add a bit of cornmeal to the pan before placing the dough–it gives the bread a little more texture on the outside and helps keep it from sticking. Be aware that this dough may stick even when the pan is prepared, however– my bread latched onto the pan, which warped the pan as the loaf cooked. It did eventually ‘let go’ and everything turned out alright.