Bulgarian Christmas Eve Soda Bread

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* Our Christmas table 2011

I have written before about Bulgarian Christmas and our tradition to have only vegan food on Christmas Eve. The truth is that not many families go by that and serve vegetarian food instead of vegan. I try to serve the tradition as much as I can, but sometimes I have prepared vegetarian feast as well, especially when we had guests who are not used to vegan food.

One thing I never compromise with is the bread I prepare for the Christmas Eve dinner.

For me, preparing bread in general is something sacred, something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I use a breadmaker for our everyday bread, but for special occasions I always mix by hand. It just isn’t the same when you don’t touch the dough with your hands. Feeling that warm, soft dough, like something alive in your hands. At that moment you know that if you respect the process and do it right, if you feel a connection with the dough, you can give it the most beautiful shape, the most soft middle and the most crunchy crust you have ever tasted. But if you don’t, you know it will show at the end.

You mix it, you shape it, you put it into the oven and you wait, to see if you have done a miracle once more.

It is not just about recipe. You can use the simplest recipe in the world and get a beautiful bread  or you can use the most complicated and extravagant recipe and get a bread so tough you can get a concussion if someone throws it at you.

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* It is not Christmas Eve in our home until we have some homemade vegetarian dolmades.

My mother always says- never bake when you are upset, it always shows. I have to tell you, she is right.

This recipe I have been making for a couple of years now, I have been researching ways to make soft soda bread for a while. The original recipe I used is published here, but I have made my own improvements to it and I will write it down the way I do it.

The Christmas Eve bread has to be with no “live” ingredient in it, nothing that came out of an animal, not even butter or yogurt. It is not easy to make bread out of flour, water and good thoughts, trust me, but I am sure that if you try this recipe you will be surprised with the flavorful bread you are going to get.
The soda bread  in general doesn’t rise as much as yeast bread, but I tend to make it even flatter, that’s the way we like it. Mine is around 2 inches thick, but you don’t have to stick to that. If you like it thicker, you can use a smaller pan ( I used 12″ round) or simply double the ingredients.

Christmas Eve Bulgarian Soda Bread

– dry ingredients
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder

 – liquid ingredients
300 ml lukewarm water
2 tbsp vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil

– a large pan with 1 inch of water on the bottom

1. Preheat your oven at 350F.

2. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients and sift together.

3. Mix the liquid ingredients together, then gradually add to the dry ingredients and mix well until a ball of dough is starting to form.

4. Grease a 12 inch pan and flatten the dough in it, same way you would do with pizza. Leave a tiny piece of the dough aside for the decoration if you want.

5. With a fork make marks all around the bread. You can do a design or simply random marks.

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6. If you have decided to decorate the bread, use the little piece of dough you have left aside, as you mix it with more flour, so the dough for decoration will not be as soft as the one already in the pan. Decorate the way you like and then brush with olive( or vegetable) oil.

7. Place the pan full of water on the bottom rack of your oven, then place the dough pan on the middle rack and bake for 45 min  or until it is done.

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8. When completely baked, take it outside, sprinkle cold water on top of it and cover with a piece of cloth or simply aluminum foil. Let it stand for 15 minutes at least. This is very important, so your crust doesn’t become hard ( which is usual for soda breads).

9. Serve warm.

* Here is an example how the bread will look like if made in a smaller pan ( not as a flat bread). The pan in the picture below is 8 “, compared to the 12” on the pictures above.

Christmas cookies LR2012 (8 of 40)

Christmas cookies LR2012 (33 of 40)
I like that the bread looks a little like focaccia  bread, and it is so soft, you can’t get enough of it. I usually serve with spices or honey. 
I hope you like this recipe and I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas!

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