Gluten Free + Vegan Irish Soda Bread

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For a few weeks in the late winter or early spring, I inevitably begin cooking more simply, or more simply than I usually do, and turn my meat and potatoes-snubbing nose towards the flavors of home, or of home in the old country. It’s been nearly nine years now since I lived in Ireland, a place that some deep ancestral vein in me recognized as home from the first moment I stepped out for an exceptionally early morning run there, in the late summer of 2008. I rarely talk so much about my time in Ireland any longer, but on rare days I find myself especially longing for that feeling I recognized there immediately, that of truly having an origin and belonging to a place in a way that goes beyond this lifetime.

Rather than dwell on the past, I instead tend to celebrate the memories I have. And just when I especially long for spring, it comes, and I invite it in all the more because the earliest spring vegetables here are the exact same as from the Irish countryside and farms, what with nettles, watercress, overwintered cabbage, sprouting kale, parsnips, potatoes, and the like. And then of course, I bake brown bread.

I read recently that Myrtle Allen of the esteemed Ballymaloe House in County Cork once said, I was many years married before I first triumphantly put a really good brown soda loaf on the tea table. I smiled when I read it because Myrtle’s Brown Soda Bread recipe was the one I baked on repeat before making major dietary changes. And it just so happens that six years after I first began experimenting with a gluten and dairy-free version, and incidentally nearly six years married, I baked a really, really good loaf.

 

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Gluten-Free + Vegan Brown Soda Bread
Brown bread is dense, craggy, and in the traditional recipes, contains no more than wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. It’s the best bread for afternoon tea, with thick vegetable-heavy chowders, or simply to provide some extra nourishment to your Irish-themed march meal(s). When I lived in Ireland, it’s the item I’d always order when out for a midday meal, along with whatever pureed vegetable soup was on for the day. If you choose to make this, know that I’ve begun baking almost exclusively by weight these days, which makes the flours a little more interchangeable, if you’ve a kitchen scale. Amaranth and/or teff provide a good dose of nutrition and hearty flavor while the millet and brown rice flours lighten it up a little. I milled my own millet flour from fresh, as it’s a grain that tends to go rancid fairly quickly, but feel free to substitute with store bought millet flour. 

1 cup amaranth or teff flour (120 g)
1 cup millet (140 g), milled into a course flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour (110 g)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 Tbs. ground flax seed + 3 Tbs. warm water
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) plain non-dairy milk
A splash of apple cider vinegar

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper on top; set aside.
  • Combine the ground flax with water to form a slurry, and then measure out the milk and add a splash of cider vinegar in a separate dish and allow it to thicken a little. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  • Pour the flax slurry and milk into the bowl with the flours, and then mix, stirring gently until the ingredients come together and form a ball (sticky but not too wet). Work quickly and do not overwork the dough as it will make the end result more dense.
  • Flour your hands and work the dough gently to shape it into a round. Using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, make a cross on top of the bread. (This as you may know, lets the fairies out). Transfer the round to the baking pan and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden in color and a thermometer comes out at 190-200 degrees F.
  • Let cool on a rack. Like all true soda breads, this bread is dense, and it’s best eaten within a day or so.

 

 

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Neah’s Apple Spice Bread

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I stepped out the door, determined to not let the weather hamper plans. The forecast was for two to three inches of fluffy, wintery, white. I decided by looking at the multiple inches outside that we were the “lucky ones.” As I trudged around town in those early hours, it became obvious our hilly neighborhood was not alone. I alternately ran in the street, where there were decidedly fewer cars than normal, or jumped to the side and pushed the accumulating inches. When I finally looped back to our apartment, decidedly more worked-out than I had intended, the flurry mass of winter wonder came down in full force.

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We had record-breaking weather this December. Nine inches and something like five days below freezing all in one go left me feeling humbled. Since I live on that big ol’ hill and all the local accidents were at the bottom of it, I decided to spend those days hoofing it around town.

After an unexpected week of slowing down and spending time in manual transport, I am more at peace and connected to my community. I took time to enjoy the cheery Christmas trees peeking through the house windows. I could take in the season’s lights slowly and know exactly which intersections were the most icey. I now know there are a couple horses at the Horse Center that are bad neighbors. Robert Frost’s philosophy about fences doesn’t work with them.

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I walked to the grocery store. On ice and then again in the melting mess (which was worse!) the second time. I almost lost it. Twice. I was thankful for a co-worker who through an unrelated phone call, made me forget my bad temper and live on. I smiled at the kids that made our driveway a very slick, very steep, and pretty awesome sledding hill. I almost joined them. I wish I had.

In that week when Christmas shopping plans were postponed and the thought of tree-decorating came to a halt, when running became an act for extreme-adventure-seekers only, and I circled only within a two mile radius from the home hill for seven days, I came to know what the holiday season should be.

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Take time to slow down and reflect on the end of a year well-lived. Be grateful for all that we have. Accomplish good deeds towards others. Get out of the bubble. Expand the perception of what can be accomplished. This season is not about the hustle and bustle. It is not about finding the perfect gift. It is about cherishing each moment as it comes.

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Neah’s Apple Spice Bread, makes one large 9×5 loaf or four mini-loaves
 
This is my dear grandma Neah’s recipe. I remember making it multiple times with her growing up. Her name for it was Raw Apple Cake, which I always thought to be be misleading. There are a whole lot of raw apples in the batter, so I can see where it got its name. I have adapted the recipe to align with a gluten and dairy-free lifestyle, as well as cut down on the sugar. The apples shine through and I found extra sweetness was unnecessary. Feel free to experiment with different spices as well as add-ins, such as raisins, walnuts, or dates. We used to make several batches, each cake being slightly different.
 
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 1/2 cups apples (about 4 large), shredded with skins on
2 cups + 1 Tbs. gluten-free flour mix
2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves
  • Whip together the oil and sugar until fluffy. Whisk in the eggs and thoroughly combine. Shred those apples (and not your fingers!) and stir em’ in.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining dry ingredients. Mix those into the apple bowl.
  • Spoon the batter into a large oiled and floured baking pan, or four mini-pans (I made mini-cakes for gifts). Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes for mini-cakes or one hour for a large cake.
 
 

Candied-Orange Spice Prune Loaf

 

Neah and Papa brought prunes.   Every time they come to visit, my grandparents bring food.  When we were younger, it was always a box of doughnuts, and then whatever they had in excess that needed to be shared- a box of apples, walnuts, raisins, some frozen fruit, and, oh yes, prunes.  The prunes were so overly dried that we couldn’t sink are teeth into them; being inventive as I am, I sure tried.  My mother would throw the prunes into the big chest freezer and there they’d stay.  When I started leaving for college, I’d raid the freezer.  I would inevitably take a bag of raisins and walnuts, but always left the prunes.  Sadly, just no easy way to eat them.

On a whim, I finally decided to grab a bag of those prunes on my last trip home.  Surely, they could be used for something.  Then one day in early September, an epiphany.  I kept finding the lovely Italian prune plums at the markets.  I wanted to use them in a loaf of some sort but inevitably kept eating them fresh before I ever got around to baking.  And then, with the last bite of the fresh plums in my hand, I pulled out an old recipe I’d been meaning to adapt and there it was.  The answer.  All these years, I’d been avoiding my grandparents prunes and all they needed was a bit of re-hydration!

Now that I’ve tested this recipe so many times I had to go purchase the not-so-overly dried prunes at our nearby farmstand, I really must say it is my new autumn favorite.  Molasses, prunes, spices, and candied-orange peel.  Not sickly sweet, nor overly-indulging–just a bit of perfection with a nice cup of steaming tea.

Candied-Orange Spice Prune Loaf
9 1/2 oz. gf flour mix (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup prunes, diced (about 18 whole prunes)
1/3 cup candied orange peel, diced
1/2 cup orange syrup (or honey)
1/4 cup molasses
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 egg 
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
 
  • Pour boiling water over prunes. Let rest for five minutes.  While prunes are resting, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a 9″ x 5″ baking dish.  Line it with a small handful of oats.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  • Measure out orange syrup, molasses, oil, egg and vanilla.  Add them all to the prune mixture.  Feel free to substitute honey for the orange syrup.
  • Pour liquids into dry mixture and stir in the candied peel.
  • Dish into the prepared baking pan.  Level with a rubber spatula and sprinkle a few more oats on top for good measure.
  • Bake for approximately 55 minutes.
  • If you can, store this loaf away in the fridge for a day or two before eating.  The flavors will be enhanced!