Dear baking world,
As I write this, the Butterscotch Irish Soda Bread is baking away in the oven. I know, I know. I’m supposed to write posts after baking, but I can’t resist writing about the smell. Oh the smell. It smells a bit like maple and brown sugar Cream of Wheat, which makes me happy because it reminds me of home. I think it’s because I can smell the butterscotch chips in the bread.
Aaaaaand here comes my science lesson.
Why do baking goods produce a smell? It’s not even just baked goods, it’s all cooking goods. You know that glorious smell of fresh baked cookies that emanate from the oven just as they’re about to be done? And how recipe instructions frequently tell the baker to “take the cookies out when they start turning a light brown at the edges”?
That’s called Maillard Reaction, also known as “caramelization” or “browning.” This reaction occurs at high temperatures, which is why you don’t start smelling the food until it reaches about 350 degrees fahrenheit and why baked goods don’t start browning until near the end of baking. The sugar reacts with amino acids and results in the lovely flavor and smell combinations, and as the baking progresses, more and more complex reactions occur until there are a multitude of various molecules. Each food that can be put into an oven and baked or cooked produces a unique smell, which is why cooking meat does not smell like fresh baked bread. (Thank goodness.)
So, I am sitting here breathing in the lovely scent of the Butterscotch Irish Soda Bread and marveling at how awesome science is. But Maillard is also going to help me in a few minutes when I go check how browned the loaf is, which will help determine if the loaf is done.
And I thoroughly look forward to cutting it open and sampling it. Yum yum yum. As for putting the bread together, it was ridiculously simple and quick. It required a little buttermilk, which is probably my favorite ingredient in any baked good. I noticed that there’s 1 1/2 tsp. of salt in this bread, which is quite a lot. But after pondering it for a moment, it makes sense. Salt promotes gluten formation. Because this bread uses all-purpose flour, it needs as much assistance in gluten formation as possible, thus the large amount of salt. (Bonus science note for the day.) Then, you just mix it all together and knead it for only a few minutes, then throw it in the oven for 45 minutes. And then voila! You have a sweet, delicious fresh bread.
The cutest part about this loaf? You have to cut an “x” in the top of the loaf so it has a lovely split look, but legend has it that the “x” lets the fairies out. (And I believe it.)
Post-bread: I have to admit that I ate a whole loaf by myself. Oops. But it was totally worth it.
A quick side note: I had a really hard time photographing these and editing them. Honestly, I messed up and took these in direct sunlight. I am still trying to figure out the ins and outs of food photography, and this was definitely not my best run.
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 4 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
- 1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup butterscotch chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees f and line a pan with parchment paper.
- In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
- Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is fully incorporated.
- With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk and the egg together, so that the egg is fully incorporated into the buttermilk.
- Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Add the butterscotch chips to the dough.
- Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead a couple of times.
- Split the loaf into two for two smaller loaves (they are still very sizable.)
- Lightly cut an x into the drop of the loaf with a serrated knife. This is said to let the fairies out.
- Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. (Due to the two loaves rather than one, mine took only about 45 minutes.)