Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The Simple Scuffin
Simplicity is something I both appreciate and pursue. I envy the minimalist life, and am a light packer. If you've seen the way I dress, you know I will rarely be swayed from my basic uniform of jeans, beater tank, gray zip-up hoodie, and flip flops by anything other than weather or dress code. I'm not good with trends or fussy new styles; rather, they're not so good with me. I like my simple routines, and their familiarity keeps my life feeling orderly in a disorderly world.
In the kitchen, I get a bit bolder. I actually play a bit, although I still keep things relatively simple to let good food be treated with little flash and lots of love. I'm comfortable enough with flavors and ingredients' personalities that I will tweak and nudge and twist recipes, or not use one at all. Cooking is a merciful art in which mistakes are seldom, but if I make one, seldom does it hurt anything besides the chances that I'll go back for seconds.
Baking, on the other hand, is less forgiving and puts me right back in my orderly place. Recipes are followed to the letter as if I'm expecting a gold star from the teacher. I'll try new things, sure, but knowing I'm at the mercy of chemistry, I tend to bake with tradition over tricks. I always read the directions like a good girl, and I know what tastes good and go with it. And oh, the things that taste good. So good that when whatever I've baked is out of the oven, I hope someone is there to shame me out of stuffing the entire batch in my mouth like a squirrel on uppers.
With Irish Soda Bread, I'm about as purist as they come. Real, traditional soda bread has only four humble ingredients, and none of that silliness of sugar or caraway seeds. It's just flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt - that's it. I'll happily eat other versions because they can be incredibly yummy, but those are just gussied-up step-sisters to the soda bread Cinderella. Sure, she looked nice at the ball, but we all know she didn't need the fancy-schmance. She was just as lovely at home by the fire, and soda bread is no different.
Last week, I was feeling impulsive and daring and itched to do something a little crazy. I knew better than to dash out to chop off my hair or get another tattoo while my sanity took a holiday, so I holed myself up in the kitchen to gather my thoughts. When one of those thoughts found its way to the top of the heap, I felt a little mischief curl my grin. Even I wouldn't have imagined what happened.
I bastardized the hell out of soda bread.
I wanted something that would last longer than the usual loaf - unless it's eaten in a day, it dries out quickly once it's been sliced. I know! I thought. I'll make mini soda breads! Everything's cuter when tinier! Just look at tiny owls!
I wanted something a little more like a treat than everyday soda bread, maybe a little sweeter, a little meltier on the tongue. I'll add sugar! And BUTTER! Like a baby scone! I WILL HOLD BAKED AWESOME IN MY HAND AND IT WILL TASTE LIKE MAGIC!
Oh, my ancestors must have been rolling under the peat.
In less than 48 hours, I made 4 batches with little variation of what I came to call Irish Soda Bread Scuffins. They're sweeter like muffins and shaped like them (as I made them in a muffin pan, although I'm sure they'd be just as nice drop-biscuit style), but their texture isn't quite dense or muffinish enough to call them muffins proper. Smooshing cold butter into the flour - technically the technique is "rubbing in," but rubbing butter into anything just sounds dirty - made the texture closer to that of scones, but these definitely aren't your typical scone. And so, behold, the liger of baked goods, the tasty bee in my bonnet: the simple scuffin.
Baking can make some of us feel like we should swap our aprons for lab coats, but I promise that's not the case here. The recipe is quite flexible, so feel free to play around with the amounts of butter and sugar. You can even leave out the sugar all together if you want a more biscuit-y scuffin (a scuffit?). Maybe add cheese and herbs instead. But, sweet or savory, these are addictive little guys. I burned my tongue because I was too impatient to let them cool properly, practically using the muffin tin as a plate. Anyway, you might want to share these so you don't eat half the batch yourself... in 20 minutes. Not that I did that (twice).
Irish Soda Bread Scuffins
Your first batch might take about 10 minutes to come together if you're not too familiar with the rubbing process, but the more comfortable you are, the more quickly this recipe comes together.
3 cups all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup sugar**
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes***
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425°F and prepare a standard muffin tin by buttering the cups or using non-stick spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Rub the butter pieces into the flour mixture with clean fingers until the mixture looks coarse like breadcrumbs and any lumps are no bigger than a pea, as Molly says. (If you're adding anything special to the scuffins like spices or cheese or anything, go ahead and add them to the mixture now.)
Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the buttermilk into the well. Gently stir the flour into the buttermilk until all the buttermilk is absorbed and the flour is moist. Be careful not to over-mix so the scuffins don't turn out tough or too chewy. Form the mixture into a loose, slightly sticky ball with your hands like you're forming a loaf - if it's too sticky to work with, sprinkle a bit of flour onto your hands.
Pull off 12 equal pieces of the dough and place them into the cups of the muffin tin. If you want, you can cut a cross-shape into the tops with a knife like traditional loaves of soda bread, but if that's more work than you want to do, you can just not give a crap like I did after 2 batches and they'll taste just as lovely. You can also brush the tops with buttermilk to give them a bit of tanginess, with melted butter to make them extra melty (and make your eyes roll to the back of your head while you moan out loud alone in your apartment while leaning on the oven for support), or with egg whites to give them a glossy shine.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in the tin for a few minutes before removing the scuffins to cool on a rack for a few minutes more. Eat with butter or jam, or coffee or beer. Or eat them straight from the tin, plain and compulsively, like I did.
Yield: 12 scuffins
*I used King Arthur white whole wheat flour 3 times out of 4 (I like a slightly heftier taste) so whole wheat flour works just fine.
**I used as little as 1/4 and as much as 1/2 a cup in different batches - it just depends on how sweet you'd like your scuffins.
***Again, you don't need to use all the butter - these taste just as good with half as much, just not as rich. Okay, just kidding, of course they taste better with full butter, but they're still yummy enough for me with less when I'm feeling a little diet guilt.