Irish Soda bread

The internet in the building where I live hasn’t been working since Tuesday morning. As we speak, I’m typing this in someone else’s living room. This means that I haven’t been able to blog or post photos to instagram or work or get instant answers to important questions such as “what will the weather be like tomorrow?” and “how long can you keep bonito flakes before they go off?”  Frustrating as this might be, the lack of internet also means I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands and what better way to spend it than to bake something. Soda bread (also called wheaten bread in some parts of Ireland) is an unyeasted, no-knead bread that relies on the chemical reaction between something sour (buttermilk) and baking soda. It’s an Irish classic that comes in several forms. Sometimes the dough is used to make soda farls, small unyeasted flatbreads, but most often it’s shaped into a round ball with a cross on top to form a dense, but moreish loaf. Although it’s generally considered a pretty foolproof formula, I nonetheless managed to mess it up a few times in the past. This left me a bit discouraged, but this Tuesday afternoon I tried again and this time I emerged victoriously. The secret, I’ve discovered, is adding an egg to the buttermilk. This might sounds like cheating, but actually it’s just common sense. And lots of people do it. Anyway, here’s what I did to make something that was probably the best soda bread I’ve ever tasted. 

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Ingredients (for 1 basic soda bread) , recipe from Rachel Allen Irish Family Food:

225 g white flour

225 wholemeal flour

+-350 ml buttermilk (Dutch buttermilk is very thin and watery compared to English buttermilk, so if using the latter you might need a bit more)

1 egg

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

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Have a slice of freshly baked soda bread, topped with salted butter, with your afternoon cup of tea. Perfection.

  • Whisk the egg with the buttermilk.
  • Dust a clean work surface with plain white flour.
  • Mix the flours, salt and baking soda together.
  • Make a well in the centre and add the buttermilk mixture. Mix with your hands.
  • Knead as little as possible. Add more buttermilk if the dough is too dry. It should be quite wet, but if it’s impossible to get it off your hands, you might want to add a little more flour.
  • Make a round shape and place it onto a baking tray topped with a sheet of baking parchment. Dust with flour and use a sharp knife to make a deep cross on top.
  • Bake for 15 minutes on 225 degrees celcius and for another 30 minutes on 200.
  • Tap the bottom of the loaf with a wooden spoon to check if it sounds hollow and let it cool on a wire rack.

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The bread will keep for a few days, but don’t hesitate to eat most of it on the same day you baked it, because that’s when it’s at its best. And it’s so quick to make you can just make yourself a new one in less than an hour. I already knew it was amazing with a lick of salted butter, but we also discovered another winning combination: sambal ulek (Indonesian crushed red chilli peppers with salt) and soft goat’s cheese. It might sound a little unusual, but the mild bread, the creamy, sweet goat’s cheese and the fiery, salty sambal are a match made in heaven. Just try it!

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I’m already looking forward to making another loaf next week. Maybe I’ll experiment with adding seeds and nuts or even try my hand at soda farls. Now let’s just hope someone fixes our wifi soon…

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