During a recent conversation with a high school friend, I rediscovered a favorite recipe from my childhood – the first that I loved making by myself. I must have been around eight years old when I first kneaded dough and baked my first soda bread rolls. After that I would often sneak into the kitchen and bake these treats, to be devoured dripping with butter, honey and Bulgarian feta cheese.
I loved home baked goods since my early days and would constantly nag my sleep-deprived and overworked mother to bake for me. She would give in sometimes, but after I learned this recipe I became our family’s baker. I was enchanted by the sifting of the dry ingredients, the squishy sound the dough made when getting it together, the squeaking of my grand mother’s table when I was kneading it, and the amazing smell of freshly baked bread.
Since then I’ve learned many more complicated bread recipes, but the soda bread rolls have a special place in my childhood memories. I haven’t done them for years, replaced by British scones and American biscuits when the urge to bake something fast came along. But when my friend said that she had baked them for dinner, memories started pouring over me. My parents’ old kitchen came to me with the aged oven, the battered baking pans, the shaky table with the red and white checkered plastic cover and the scent of soda rolls. I could see my long-dead cat sleeping on the window sill, the small fridge mounted over the washing machine and the chestnut tree that was the first to bloom in the spring in the whole city.
There is no window in my kitchen here, no blooming trees either, only snow covered roofs and yards. But my eight-year-old daughter is as enthusiastic about baking as I was at her age and eager to help me. Together we made a batch of my childhood’s favorite delight, both eight years old and happy.
Soda bread rolls (makes eight):
- 2 ¾ cups all purpose unbleached flour plus extra for kneading
- 1 cup natural yogurt (buttermilk)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces
Preheat oven at 450°F (230°C) with racks positioned in the middle. In a big mixing bowl sift the flout, salt and sugar. In a smaller bowl mix the yogurt with the baking soda, olive oil and vinegar. Stir well until the mixture starts bubbling – very important otherwise the dough could turn bitter from the baking soda.
Make a well in the flour and pour in the yogurt mixture. With a circular motion start incorporating the ingredients with a fork until soft sticky dough forms. Add a little flour at a time when kneading until the dough is not so sticky, but still soft. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
With a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil smear eight circles about the size of an ordinary glass on a baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Don’t simply oil the whole surface or the oil might start smoking in the hot oven.
Divide the dough into eight parts, roll them into balls and place on the oiled surfaces. Make an indignation in the middle with your index finger and push in a knob of butter. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown. Serve warm with butter, jam, honey or cold cuts and cheese. The rolls make a great part of brunch or a light supper during a never-ending Chicago winter.