If the grass is always greener on the other side, where does that leave the bread?
As Lockdown 2020 sees armies of Irish hobby bakers do battle with sourdough bread – two cups of flour to one cup aspirational notions – hungry Germans are playing the same game, but in the other direction. And the hottest lockdown recipe here is “Sodabrot”, or humble Irish soda bread.
Germans are the world masters of sourdough and other breads, with a different variety for every day of the year. But the second wave of Covid-19 panic-buying has seen yeast supplant toilet paper as the impossible-to-get product.
With necessity the mother of invention, Germany’s Zeit weekly’s magazine has introduced its readers to the delights of the Irish bread that is “crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside”.
Theirs is not just any old soda bread recipe, writes Nicole Quint, but a reproduction of a hand-written recipe from a West Cork goat-farmer, handed down through generations.
Irish cuisine, she tells readers, was “always one that couldn’t depend on a well-stocked pantry”. Ingredient limitations – and finding creativity within those limitations – has coloured the national cuisine.
The recipe looks normal enough – though porridge oats are an interesting addition. Readers are urged not to knead the dough but “treat it like a glowing coal” - and don’t forget to cut a cross in the top before baking. This may derive from a traditional Catholic blessing, Quint adds, given the bread is “as enriching for the soul as communion at Mass”.
Release the fairies
Or she says the slits could release fairies who don’t take kindly to being baked alive.
“Everyone in Ireland knows someone who knows someone who heard of people who didn’t make a cross and were taken in their sleep – though 40 years later,” she jokes. “So, when you’re baking, it’s best not to take on the fairies.”
She notes that Ireland’s traditional bread has a relatively short history. Soda, the bread’s rising agent, was brought back in the 1800s from across the Atlantic, where native Americans used it in their own baking.
The native bread had only shaken off its Famine-era reputation in the 1960s, Die Zeit adds, when EU membership brought a flood of foreign breads from baguette and panini.
Recent years have seen the fightback of up-cycled soda bread, with granny’s recipe pimped with stout, molasses syrup or even see-tang.
Joining Germany’s new “sodabrot” craze is Die Welt daily.
“Anyone, really anyone, with an oven and a mixing bowl can make it, and without minute weighing, kneading and resting time,” it added. “On the contrary, between the moment when you realise you’ve not enough bread in the house and you slide some soda bread into the oven, you need around 15 minutes.”
The only problem with the bread, Die Welt adds, is that it is hard and dry on the second day.
“At least that’s what I read,” the newspaper adds. “In our household soda bread has never survived more than 24 hours.”