We had friends over for breakfast yesterday morning. It was a very rainy day – cats, dogs, and everything hoofing down, so we didn’t feel remotely guilty lighting the fire in the morning. Turkish breakfast encompasses everything from a bit of cheese, honey and bread, to a full-on meze experience. We went for something in between. I made some spinach and cheese börek (pies to you and me) – more on that later – with roasted peppers and tomatoes, village cheese, fried eggs, the usual cucumber and olives, plus plenty of fresh bread and homemade jam and local honey.
Bread is an absolute staple here, in the same way that potatoes used to be in the UK (and still are to some extent). Our well-trained guests were meeting at the bakery in town, with an instruction to buy whatever looked nice (they did well), but I still couldn’t resist making something a bit different to the bread we usually get here.
Soda bread needs to be eaten about ten minutes after it comes out of the oven, or sliced and frozen and used for toasting supplies for the next week. You really can’t beat a slice of toasted soda bread, it knocks the socks off anything else, though it does take ages in the toaster.
I usually use pekmez, Turkish grape molasses (a bit like black treacle) for the sweetener, but you could use honey, golden syrup, black treacle or malt extract – which gives a lovely malty taste. If you wanted to make the bread to accompany soup, you could use caraway instead of the other seeds, or add chopped herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, cubes of cheese, or just leave it plain.
There is no yeast involved – the bread rises because of the reaction between the bicarbonate of soda (the raising agent) and the acid in the yoghurt (or you can use buttermilk instead of the milk and yoghurt – this would be more traditional, but is not something you would necessarily have in your fridge).
Here is my very easy recipe – think scone rather than bread dough. It takes about two minutes to mix and 30 minutes to bake, no kneading or rolling or any of that malarkey. It needs to go into the oven as soon as it is mixed, as the bicarb reacts immediately on contact with the acid in the yoghurt.
Wholemeal/rye soda bread
Makes 1 round loaf (or make it oval if you want to slice it and freeze it)
250g flour – I used a mix of 50g plain white flour, plus 100g each of rye and wholemeal wheat, but absolutely any mix will do, or just one type of flour is fine
Handful each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds (or any seed of your choice, or chopped walnuts)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
A large pinch of salt
100ml natural yoghurt
(or 200ml buttermilk instead of the milk and yoghurt)
2 tablespoons molasses, honey or malt extract
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (fan).
Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.
Put the flour into a large bowl with the seeds (or nuts), salt and bicarbonate of soda. Mix until well combined. In a small jug or bowl, whisk together the milk, yoghurt, molasses and oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour mix, pour in the wet ingredients and stir with a table knife until it comes together as a sticky dough.
It will look something like this:
Sprinkle your worktop with some flour, then tip the dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Sprinkle more flour on to the top of the dough, then very gently shape into a ball.
(Alternatively, if you want to freeze the bread, shape it into a longer oval, so that you can cut it into more even slices – slice it before you freeze it, then you can take it out as and when you need it).
Place on the baking sheet, then cut a cross about 2cm deep, so that you end up with a ball marked into four quarters (if you are making an oval loaf, just cut three or four slashes across the bread). Traditionally you should use a skewer to prick a small hole into each quarter to let the fairies out (it was St Patrick’s day this week, so perhaps we should follow tradition – I always do, just to be on the safe side).
Put the bread into the hot oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Your loaf should look something like this: