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Spud Sunday: Winter Buttermilk

Winter Buttermilk

Whereas winter buttermilk was invented, one presumes, through necessity, it turns out to be a boon for those who like a proper soda bread loaf but who, for one reason or another, are keen to avoid dairy.

The basic idea, according to Maura Laverty’s instructions, which I managed to locate over here [1], is this: make up a mixture of flour, water, raw and cooked potatoes. Allow this to ferment for a couple of days, after which time you can use the resulting liquid in place of buttermilk in your baking. When you have thus used some of the liquid, you can replenish with an equal amount of fresh water and let the mixture continue to ferment.

Maura Laverty suggests that an amount equivalent to double that specified below should be enough for a fortnight’s supply of buttermilk – this assumes, I expect, that you would be baking regularly during that time. As I wasn’t planning on making very large amounts of soda bread, the amount indicated below was enough for me. I used it to make several soda bread loaves and scones, as well as some (winter) buttermilk pancakes over a 2 week period, replenishing the jug once after the initial use. All were good – very good in fact – and I get the feeling that winter buttermilk is about to become a feature year ’round.

The Summary:

  • Makes around 1 litre of winter buttermilk and – assuming you have some mashed potato already made – takes approx. 5 min to prep + 2 days for initial fermentation

You’ll need:

  • 50g plain flour
  • 700ml cold water
  • 125g plain mashed potato, cooled
  • 150g raw potato, very finely grated

You’ll also need:

  • A large jug, around 1l capacity – if you use a clear glass jug, you’ll get a better view of the fermenting activity.

The Steps:

  • Mix the flour to a smooth paste using a little of the water and add to your jug.
  • Add both the mashed potato and raw potato to the flour paste, along with the remaining water and mix together well. Make sure to leave a couple of inches to spare at the top of the jug – as the mixture ferments, it will become active and might overflow otherwise (as mine did after about 36 hours).
  • Cover and leave in a warm place for about 2 days to ferment. You will see the mixture discolour initially from the oxidation of the raw potato. Over time, a crust will form and the contents will bubble and stratify. It will also start to develop a (not unpleasant) aroma of fermentation – a faintly sweet-seeming tang.
  • After the initial 2 days, you can use the liquid in place of buttermilk. Maura Laverty’s instructions were to pour off the liquid – which will be a little viscous, due to the starch – and leave the sediment behind. However, as I had a lot of material clumping at the top of the jug, I simply mixed the contents of the jug together and used some of that, with good results.
  • You can replenish the amount you have used by topping the jug up with the same amount of fresh water, mixing thoroughly and letting it continue to ferment. You can do this for up to 2 weeks.

White Soda Bread

White Soda Bread

This is the classic white soda bread recipe that Maura Laverty included in Maura Laverty’s Cookery Book and can be made with whatever kind of buttermilk you have. In truth, I had forgotten the loveliness of it, and the making of this loaf was a timely reminder.

With winter buttermilk, you may end up using a slightly larger volume to make this loaf than if you were using regular buttermilk, as the winter buttermilk may contain a certain amount of solid matter. In any case, as with any soda bread, don’t add all of the liquid at once and judge for yourself whether the mixture is too dry and needs a little more added.

The Summary:

  • Makes 1 loaf & takes approx. 10 min to prep + 35 min to bake

You’ll need:

  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bread soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • approx. 300-400ml buttermilk or winter buttermilk

You’ll also need:

  • A baking tray to accommodate the loaf

The Steps:

  • Preheat your oven to 220C.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bread soda, salt and sugar.
  • If using winter buttermilk, pour off the required amount of liquid from your jug. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add most of the liquid.
  • Use one hand to mix the flour and buttermilk until it comes together as a soft dough. If it seems very dry, add more buttermilk.
  • Turn out onto a floured surface, shape the dough into a round about 2-3 cm high and place onto a floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross into the dough, from right to left and top to bottom and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until risen and well browned. The base of the loaf should have a hollow sound when tapped.
  • Allow to cool on a wire tray. If you don’t want a very hard crust, wrap the soda bread in a tea towel while it is cooling. This is best eaten fresh with some good Irish butter, plain and simple and very good.

The Variations:

  • You can easily make individual scones by cutting the dough into around 8 even-sized pieces, and baking instead for about 15-20 minutes, until browned and risen.
R☆51