The Effect of Kneading Time on Irish Soda Bread Structure (Update #7)

Yesterday’s bake was over in a flash! After spending entire days on the 6 classic yeasted breads that I baked before this 7th experiment, I was shocked to be pretty much done with my Irish Soda Breads after just two and a half hours. The reason for this time reduction was not due to any sort of increased efficiency on my part, despite the fact that I have been baking non-stop for about a month now. Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread, meaning that the rising agent is not yeast and, therefore, proving time is taken out of the equation. Instead, the trick to Soda Bread is very similar to that of buttermilk biscuits in that a basic substance (baking soda) is mixed with an acidic substance (buttermilk) to create a rapid rising effect. After baking, this reaction gives Irish Soda Bread a pleasing, slightly-sweet, and biscuit-like texture that lacks the hint of fermented goodness typical of yeasted loaves. Nonetheless (but with much less time required), Irish Soda Bread is a wonderful rustic centerpiece for a gathering, and a couple loaves can be whipped up in just under an hour! It truly is one of the best breads to bake if you are short on time but craving a homemade loaf, and the addition of dried fruit can make it a creation to remember for your family and friends.

Focus breeds speed!

Focus breeds speed (but really, the reaction between baking soda and buttermilk is what made this bake particularly quick)

Irish Soda Breads are typically not meant to be kneaded for very long. Indeed, the recipe that I was using called for a knead of only 30 seconds just to work any extra flour into the dough before placing it on the pan and putting it in the oven. This is another reason why these breads have “quick” in their name. Due to the fact that the texture in the dough will be produced by the acid-base reaction, the kneading process usually needed to develop gluten in yeasted loaves is cut out. There doesn’t need to be strong strands of gluten structuring the dough because there is no drawn-out rising process in which air bubbles are formed from yeast respiration. Instead, the weak strands of gluten in the quick bread are overlooked due to the swift rise produced by the buttermilk and baking soda. However, being the curious bread enthusiast that I am, I wanted to see if kneading the Irish Soda Bread for varying amounts of time would change the structure, height, and/or overall appearance of this Malks family favorite.

Mad scientist!

Mad scientist!

To set up my experiment I chose to knead the five batches of dough for 30 seconds (control – trial 1), 8 minutes (trial 2), 6 minutes (trial 3), 4 minutes (trial 4), and 2 minutes (trial 5). My hypothesis was that, while the control would better represent the close and cakey texture typical of an Irish Soda Bread loaf, the more that the dough was kneaded, the taller and more structurally-sound the loaf would be. To test my hypothesis I set out on a pleasurable afternoon of baking by mixing buttermilk and egg, setting them aside, and then stirring together the dry ingredients of flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Next, almost as if I were making a rough puff pastry, I worked cold butter into the dry ingredients by hand (which is a very pleasurable tactile experience that I would recommend everyone should try at least once before they die) before pouring the liquid ingredients into the dry and mixing them all together. Then I kneaded the dough (for varying amounts of time depending on which trial I was making), placed it on a greased baking sheet, scored the top with a sharp knife, and baked the loaf in a 400 degree F oven for about 35 minutes.

Baking soda is key! Hence the name "Soda Bread."

Baking soda is key! Hence the name “Soda Bread.”

Pouring

Pouring

Mixing

Mixing

After the 8 minute kneaded loaf came out of the oven and was placed next to the control loaf, a clear noticeable difference arose. It appeared that my hypothesis held true, as the control loaf, a shaggy yet inviting dome of buttery goodness, looked almost like a different species next to its kneaded cousin, whose four scored peaks shot up like feline ears supported by a network of well-developed gluten. The trend continued as the rest of the loaves rolled out of their hot metal home. After measuring the height of each loaf from their bottom to their highest point, my hypothesis was confirmed. The height measurements taken on each bread — 7.4cm (30 second knead – trial 1), 9.1cm (8 minute knead – trial 2), 8.5cm (6 minute knead – trial 3), 8.3 (4 minute knead – trial 4), 7.8 (2 minute knead – trial 5) — show a striking trend that links kneading time to height in Irish Soda Bread loaves. It is logical that the more one kneads a dough, the stronger the strands of gluten will be, and the stronger the gluten is, the higher the bread will be allowed to rise before the dough cannot support its own weight. This scenario is exactly what occurred in my quick bread experiment! For a fledgling bread scientist excited to dig farther into his craft, it was absolutely fascinating to see the structural components of bread that I had heard about and studied for many years actually affect the dependent variable of this controlled experiment, and I hope you had fun coming along for the rise (hehe).

Fun with knives and rulers!

Fun with knives and rulers!

My experimental errors were that my exact timing was not completely controlled (due to the fact that I only have one oven and about one half of a scattered bakers’ brain), and the pans on which I baked the breads were not exactly the same. Other than that, this experiment was extremely easy to control relative to the other experiments that I’ve done for this project due to the fact that this loaf is so simple! It’s easy to make, it’s delicious, and it stands a little taller if you knead it. And I need it. What’s not to love about Irish Soda Bread?

Easy, breezy, buttery, beautiful

Easy, breezy, buttery, beautiful

Comments

  1. ecsnyder01 says:

    Jonny! This was so fun to read, I think I learned a lot about baking bread just from this one post. What shocked me most was that buttermilk is acidic?! Maybe that’s common knowledge, but I was surprised. And given that I know little about bread-making, I would never have guessed that kneading time was related to bread rise. I think your ability to come up with that hypothesis shows what depth of knowledge you have about bread – you should be proud! The real test is which loaf tastes the best. I’d be curious to know if kneading time affected the flavor in any way. Good luck with the rest of your research!

  2. jmmalks says:

    Elizabeth! Thanks for reading and commenting! All the loaves tasted pretty much the same due to the fact that the ingredients were controlled. However, the bake times were slightly affected in that the taller the loaf the longer it took to bake. This only changed the times by a few minutes or so.

  3. acfarrell says:

    Hey Jonny! As someone who loves Soda Bread and will make entire loaves of it for myself, this was fascinating to read. My favorite recipe involves carraway seeds. I’ve always wondered about kneading and it is nice to have a better understanding of the science behind soda bread beyond why you cross it. Good luck with the rest of your bakes.

  4. jmmalks says:

    So thrilled I could help a little bit! Happy baking 🙂

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