Saturday, 9 February 2013

a memory of the tandoor-wallah and a recipe for rye and honey soda bread

honey and rye soda bread, blood orange marmalade
and godminster brie
i am in my kindergarten years. on our way home from school we stop at the tandoor in the local bazaar to get roti for lunch. it is searing hot and i am seated on a ledge peering into the tandoor. the heat rises in a constant wave. it distorts the image of what is seen through it. our local tandoor is an assembly of a few men – one who kneads the dough, another who shapes the peras (rounds of dough) and rolls them. the last in line is the tandoor-wallah who stretches it and slaps it onto what resembles a small rectangular but hard pillow. in swift motion he lowers his hand into the tandoor and transfers the dough to the wall. the hollow furnace cooks the dough in under a minute. it gives the roti or naan angry blisters in some places. every order is wrapped in newspaper and the very tall stacks are topped with another piece for easier carriage. i could never resist the temptation of stealing a thick crust of hot roti on our way home. even now when i visit pakistan mama and i will get roghni naan from the tandoor and eat some on the way home. 

i love bread in all its shapes and forms – made with refined, wholemeal or stone-ground flours, leavened or unleavened, enriched and sour dough. 

i am in eleven, perhaps twelve. we are in our nazim-ud-din road house, the one with the ugly orange cupboards in its kitchen. the door that separates the pantry from the kitchen swings violently both ways at a mere push. on some weekends it is the smell of bread being baked that draws me the kitchen. mama would make white flour rolls done up in pretty french knots, wedges of wholemeal scones baked in a pie tin and polish doughnuts with centres of her plum jam. i will never forget the first time i saw dough being proved. mama indented it with her finger and when it was done rising not only was it double in size, it was a smooth high circle. 

my current flat is draughty. our store cupboard is no better. the few times i have made bread with yeast it has failed to double in size so i find myself turning to bread that does not need proving. i have had rye flour in my cupboard since december. this simple soda bread was as much an imperative of creating space for other ingredients as it was for home-baked bread. this is a bread of easy temperament because it is effortless. it takes all of ten minutes to make the dough and around half an hour to bake. its close texture holds butter and honey or runny preserves without letting them go astray. 

we had ours with a godminster brie made from jersey milk (with thanks to s who bought it for me). it is a creamy and mild cheese that paired well with my blood orange marmalade. the soda bread is nutty and the honey and buttermilk soften the darker tones of rye. this bread is best warm and eaten the same day. 

rye and honey soda bread
{honey and rye soda bread} 
adapted from hugh fearnley-whittingstall’s rye and honey soda bread 

two hundred and fifty grams rye flour (i use doves) 
one teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 
two teaspoons cream of tartar 
quarter teaspoon salt 
two hundred ml buttermilk* 
fifty ml honey 
one tablespoon olive oil 
extra flour for dusting 

preheat the oven to two hundred degrees celsius. lightly grease a baking tray. set aside. 

place the dry ingredients (i.e. the flour, raising agents and salt) in a large mixing bowl. whisk together the buttermilk, honey and olive oil in a measuring jug. introduce the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together quickly. do not worry is the dough is sticky. that is how it is meant to be. 

gather the dough together, transfer it to the baking tray and shape it into a round roughly seven to eight cm in height. it may be helpful to use a dough scraper to assist with this process. then use the dough scraper to deeply score the round into four quarters. do not score too deeply though. you want the round to retain its integrity. now dust with a scant handful of rye flour and tuck into the oven. 

bake for roughly twenty-five to thirty minutes. the bread should form a good crust and should sound hollow when you tap the underside. transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least half an hour before eating. 

*if you do not have buttermilk you can make your own. this will help you do so. or just substitute with a mixture of a hundred ml of yoghurt and milk mixed together.


  1. I love your early memories of bread. Great writing. And this soda bread looks awesome!