I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I have a love/hate relationship with soda bread.
It’s simple to make, and it was the first recipe we used with kids when we started doing the education work. Even though I’ve not made it for a while I can still run through the patter without rehearsal and almost make it in my sleep.
The hate bit comes from the fact that I’m not very good at baking soda bread and it often fails to live up to expectations. At times, particulalrly if you don’t get the soda mixed in (use a sieve), it can taste downright unpleasant. Everyone says it’s nice when they bake it but I suspect it’s a case of Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. I also suspect that the Emperor’s Old Socks would taste better most of the time.
To be fair, the loaf we made today worked well and tasted very good (if a bit salty).
Soda bread uses baking soda instead of yeast as a rising agent and is a lot quicker to make as you don’t have to wait for it rise. In fact the rise starts as soon as you mix the dough (when the lactic acid and the baking soda react to form carbon dioxide) and you have to get it in the oven as fast as you can.
It’s seen as a traditional Irish bread these days but it is first mentioned only in the 1830s in Ireland was once popular in the rest of the country. It is also baked in Austria, Poland and Serbia.
So, you may ask, why am I writing about it?
Well, it all started with us being given a bucket of wheat from the field. Julia decided that we should bake bread using our own wheat (as we did a few years ago) and it went from there.
We even cut a bit from the plot in the allotment to thrash and winnow it. In our case that meant sticking it into a bag to bash the grains free, then rubbing it between our hands and blowing the chaff away to winnow. We didn’t produce much that way, but at least a small part of it was done from scratch. We also sieved it to take out some of the bran, leaving a nice cream-coloured flour. We didn’t really need to take out the bran but it served to demonstrate a bit more about bread and flour.
Here is the recipe. Julia got it off the internet and forgot to note where, so apologies if we’ve ripped off your recipe. Apologies for the ancient units of weight, she seems to have gone back to the 1950s for the recipe.
6 oz Self raising flour
6 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 pint buttermilk
We used 6 oz of our own flour in place of the plain flour and stuck the juice of a lemon into fresh milk to sour it, a traditional way of making soda bread in the absence of buttermilk. You can also use yoghurt and even fresh milk according to other recipes. I’ve tried them all and they all work in various degrees.
Combine the ingredients and sieve to make sure the baking soda is properly dispersed (or you can get horrible, bitter green bits in the bread. You can also sieve the soda into the mix but that can lead to some uneven results.
Add the milk bit by bit and use your hand (holding the fingers stiff) to stir it all in. #
Pat into a round loaf about an inch thick, slash a cross on the top and put it in the oven. We did 25 minutes with the fan oven at 200 degrees C, though the recipe called for 30 at 200 degrees. I suppose ours was quicker because we forgot to reduce it by 20 degree to allow for the fan.
We checked it by tapping its bottom (cue for juvenile humour) and prodding it with a thin knife because we wanted to be doubly sure.
The cuts are to let the faeries out, or the devil. Or to bless the bread, to make it easier to divide into quarters or to let it bake more evenly. That’s the trouble with Ireland, so many stories.
Yes, it would be better if I could finish off with a shot of cheerful people chewing soda bread but by the time I’d grabbed the camera for that bit they’d all finished it.