I think both my Germanic and Anglo-Saxon background must be responsible for my love of one of the heartiest, most delicious sandwich combinations – that of the simple bread and cheese. Typically enjoyed at lunchtime, it was the kind of meal that a farm laborer would have enjoyed for centuries in England (probably in Germany too!), something portable that could have been eaten in the field, or ordered in the local pub.
It was a good source of energy and protein when work was hard physical labor and energy to get through the day was important. It was frequently flavored by onion when other spices were lacking; and other food and drink could have been taken with it, like apples, hard-boiled egg, and very likely a beer or two.
So I call this my “ploughman’s tea” even though it is a bit rough and ready for something like a fine luxury tea. But you can dress it up a bit with some nice china, nice table linens (thanks to @jhelum.jaipur on Instagram – a better picture of the table runner below), a bit of greenery, and it’s perfect for an afternoon tea at home!
I started with the bread, for which I wanted something hearty and crusty. I also hadn’t tried making soda bread before, but I thought it would pair wonderfully with a sharp white English Cheddar cheese that is one of my favorite cheeses. So my soda bread recipe originated with Cath Kidson’s Teatime book, and her Walnut Soda Bread recipe, changed up a little for my taste, of course!
I love a soda bread for having no yeast, just mix up the few ingredients, shape and bake.
Don’t overwork it, just bring it together into its sticky consistency…
…and shape into a circle, marking it into quarter sections. I did try to push the pieces of date into the loaf so the bits showing wouldn’t burn when in the oven. I also used cornmeal to coat the baking sheet – I just like the crunchy consistency it creates on the bottom of the loaf.
You could use a wooden spoon, but I used my Wilton cake cutter to slice down to the baking sheet, just making sure the quarter were joined up before baking. It bakes up and together just fine in the oven when you do.
You want a nice deep rich color, but if it starts getting too dark in the oven before it’s baked through, you can just cover it with tin foil and let it finish baking the full 45 minutes or until it has an inner temperature of 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit (93-96 Celsius).
Walnut and Date Soda Bread
- 250 g. (1 3/4 cups) plain all-purpose flour
- 250 g. (1 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour
- 25 g. (2 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, cubed
- 100 g. (3/4 cup porridge oats (in the UK) or instant oatmeal (in the US)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 500 ml. (2 cups) buttermilk or natural yoghurt
- 100 g. (1 cup) walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
- 50 g. (1/2 cup) dates, roughly chopped
- 1-2 Tbsp. flour or cornmeal for spread on baking sheet so loaf won’t stick
DirectionsPreheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/200 Celsius.
Sift both flours into a large bowl; add the butter to the flour, rubbing it into the flour until evenly combined and there are no more butter lumps. Stir in the oats, baking soda and salt.
Use a wooden spoon to make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the buttermilk or yogurt and quickly and lightly bring together the mixture to make a rough, sticky dough. Stir in the walnuts and dates.
Sprinkle the baking sheet with flour or cornmeal. Form the mixture into a ball with your hands, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Use the handle of the wooden spoon or a large knife, dipped in flour, to create a cross shape by pressing the handle into the dough. If you use a sharper knife or cake blade, you can cut through the loaf entirely, but then press the four quarters together so they attach (they will bake up and be joined together).
Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Keep an eye on the bread and check after 35 minutes – if it’s looking dark, turn it over and loosely cover with foil before returning to the oven. Even when it is brown, it may not be completely baked, so be sure to bake the full 45 minutes (or until it hits an inner temperature of 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit/93-96 Celsius that a quick bread should hit).
Allow to cool on a wire rack, covered with a tea towel (if you want the crust to be soft).
Serve either simply buttered with a good quality sharp Cheddar or other preferred cheese as an open sandwich. Other toppings could include a hearty chutney with the cheese; or salted butter and cucumber; roughly chopped hard-boiled eggs and watercress, or any other favorite tea sandwich topping.
To finish off this ploughman’s, pair a slice or two of bread with a salted butter and a favorite sharp white Cheddar cheese. I found Murray’s Aged English Cheddar at my local grocer. The combination of the crusty-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside soda bread, crunch of the walnuts, the sweetness of the date, creaminess of the butter and salty, flaky ever-so-sharp cheese was just an unbeatable bite.
From my perspective, the added flavor of date made the sandwich. Another dried fruit like apricot, or a nice fruit chutney could have also added that touch of sweet that really takes it over the top.
A nice strong black tea pairs well with this open face sandwich. I took my tea straight, but a little added milk for creaminess would work just as well.
Finally, as promised, here’s a better view that shows a bit more of the beautiful table runner from @jhelum.jaipur on Instagram – I recommend connecting with them and checking out what they have available to brighten up your tea table!