The Irish have produced some wondrous things – I can live without leprechauns but soda bread is amazing stuff (and stupidly easy to make).
by John Pope on March 12, 2016
With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner the mind inevitably wanders to things a bit Irish, and what (apart from Guinness and leprechauns) could be more stereotypically Irish than soda bread.
Ireland, the wild little island at the edge of the world (Roman words, not mine), has a pretty particular climate. There are things that grow and things that don’t. The cuisine of the emerald isle has evolved to match the climatic conditions, the soft wheat that grows (or historically grew) in Ireland is not suitable for baking the yeasty breads that were popular across the rest of Europe and so they had to do something a bit different.
A bread made with buttermilk, which is a bloody excellent thing that I am happy to drink straight from the pot, combined with bicarbonate of soda (also referred to as baking or bread soda) is the obvious solution. The acids in the buttermilk mix with the soda and act as a raising agent and produce a brilliant bread which has a wonderful chewy quality whilst managing to not be overly dense or heavy at all.
One of the very many great things about soda bread is that there is no kneading to mess around with and no time spent waiting around for dough to rise. Shockingly, this is proper bread from start to finish in less than an hour.
Bready… set… go!
It is ridiculously easy to make an amazing loaf of bread and there is really only one hard and fast rule: The art of making soda bread is to handle the dough quickly and gently and to cook it at a high temperature, the less you do to it, the better the bread.
- Plain flour450 g
- Bicarbonate of soda1 tsp
- Salt 1 tsp
- Caster sugar25 g
- Unsalted butter35 g
- Buttermilk400 ml
Preheat your oven to 220°C (425°F) and lightly grease a baking tin – any shape you like, but about the same surface area as a 15cm (6″) square one would have.
Sieve the flour, soda and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and then chop the butter into cubes and rub it in until there are no lumps.
Make a well in the centre of the bowl and pour the buttermilk into it. Use a spatula or a broad-bladed knife, working quickly but gently, mix until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated and formed a spongy dough. DO NOT overwork the dough, the point is just to make sure that everything is mixed together.
Turn the dough into the baking tin, the surface should be roughly level and you should make sure that there aren’t big empty spaces left at the corners but try not to fiddle around with it too much.
Sprinkle some wholemeal flour over the top of the loaf and put it into the preheated oven to bake for 10 minutes.
After ten minutes turn the temperature down to 200°C (400°F) and bake for another 40-45 minutes. When it is ready the bread should be golden brown on the top and feel firm to the touch.
Take the bread out of the oven, leave it in the tin and cover with a clean cloth or towel. Wait until the loaf has cooled down before removing it form the tin and wrapping it completely in the cloth to store it. It might sound like an odd way to store it but it helps to keep the bread moist.
To be honest I have absolutely no idea how long this bread keeps for, what I do know is that it tastes amazing, disappears incredibly fast and that I will be baking some more as soon as I finish typing this recipe.