BY Beth Bird Pocker
Under the heading, “one thing leads to another,” a recent craving for classic New York rye bread led to the discovery that while many know flavourful caraway in the biblical sense, apparently few know its name. This seemed unfair for such a ubiquitous culinary ingredient. In the interest of fairness, it seemed an appropriate time to acknowledge the contributions of caraway to the popular palate.
Caraway (Carum carvi) is an easily grown biennial plant in the Apiaceae (carrot/parsley) family. It is characterized by a hollow stem, small pink or white flowers and crescent-shaped fruit, each about two millimetres long, containing a single seed. Because the outer fruit is dry, it is frequently misidentified as a seed.
The small, thin, brown fruit has a strong, slightly acrid flavour that resembles aniseed. It features prominently in both European and Middle Eastern cuisine as a flavouring for breads (most prominently Rye bread), desserts (a Ramadam favorite, Caraway pudding), liqueur ( Kümmel) , cheeses (Havarti, Bondost), casseroles and other foods ( such as the Alsatian Choucroute Garni and the German Fische Mit Kummelkraut , fish with caraway seed cabbage, and Gefulte Gans, goose stuffed with prunes and apples). In Elizabethan England, Caraway was quite popular for medicinal as well as culinary purposes. It is allegedly beneficial for both stomach ailments and thyroid disorders.
While all of this is wonderfully interesting, it does not compare to the personal experience of biting into something elevated to palate perfection by the inclusion of the humble Caraway . Here is a recipe, done by hand, for the culinary adventurer that acknowledge the contribution of Caraway to our modern tastebuds.
Easy Irish Soda Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour ½ cup softened butter
1 cup unbleached bread flour 1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons white sugar 1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda Topping:
1 tablespoon baking powder ¼ cup butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt ¼ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon Caraway
4 tablespoons raisins or sultanas
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C ( 375 degrees F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease. DO NOT use a silicone baking sheet liner as this will change the texture of the bread. In a large bowl, combine both types of flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add ½ cup of melted butter and mix well. Separately combine the egg and 1 cup of buttermilk. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. When this has been well combined in the bowl, turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead it several times before sprinkling it with the caraway and raisins or sultanas. Work the caraway and raisins into the dough until they are evenly distributed. For those fond of raisins, 4 additional tablespoons may be added without compromising the recipe. Roll the dough into a large ball and flatten to a mound. Separately combine the topping ingredients ( butter and buttermilk) and lightly brush over the loaf. Cut a shallow “X” on the top of the loaf. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.