Soda bread

So I had always assumed soda bread was really difficult.

Having made some now, honest to god I have no idea why I thought that. It’s easy. Super easy. Not even ‘Yes, but Amanda of course you would say that, you make bread all the time’ easy. It is just out and out superbly simple, and remarkably delicious. I can genuinely say that it took longer for the oven to heat up than it took for me to make the dough, and we have a good oven.

While I was at university I decided to start making my own bread based on a dislike of that soggy cardboard texture, and the discovery that a standard shop-bought white loaf has about one teaspoon of suger per slice and no nutritional value whatsover. That shit just ain’t good for you.

I spent about 6 months enjoying my own white bread before getting the confidence to stray into brown bread, and seeded loaves. Neither of these is really any more difficult than a white loaf, but I just have a hatred of failure with baking projects. That said, it took me about two years to discover that there is a whole world of bread out there beyond the standard loaf, and have begun branching out into sweet loaves, soda bread, sourdough and still have plenty more recipes to cross off the list with my new found confidence. My original idea for this blog was to just post bread recipes, and along with the chickens, the bread posts are by far the most popular. I like to think you all love coming along on other Brunton adventures as well, but for those of you who love a good bread recipe, trust me when I say this is a good’un, and definitely a really great recipe for those of you new to making bread.

So let’s get down to business.

For soda bread, you only need three ingredients – flour, buttermilk, and bicarbonate of soda (it’s in the name, kids). Buttermilk is a bit of a pain to get hold of, so I used greek yoghurt watered down with a slosh of whole milk and it was still super delicious. So to start with, this bread is not intensive on specialist ingredients. Always a winner for me – I’m too damn lazy to source out anything difficult to get hold of!

It’s got a very different flavour to normal bread – and actually when I first tasted it I was rather taken aback. Soda break is a blank canvas people. There are plenty of soda bread purists on the internet who (probably quite correctly) say that it is only true soda bread if it is flour, buttermilk, and soda. To me, it is a bread which cries out not to be eaten plain, but lives to be combined with other flavours, so I’ll add some variations here. Equally, you don’t need to fanny around with fancy flavours – keep it simple and have it toasted with lashings of jam, or with some strong cheese. Probably best not to do both at once.

It also requires no real kneading – a bonus if you’re in a rush, and even better if you’re not used to making bread. I’m not saying that there isn’t an art to perfecting a really awesome soda bread – but for the casual beginner it doesn’t require a practised kneading technique. In fact, the quicker you get that badboy in the oven, the better.

The Recipe

  • 500g bread flour. White or brown, your choice.
  • 500ml buttermilk, or live yoghurt. If you’re using yoghurt, I did 400ml yoghurt, 100ml whole milk in order to get a wetter texture – it takes longer for the flour to absorb the yoghurt and you want to make this fast.
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

note: If you really don’t have any live yoghurt, I’ve seen on forums people adding a splash of vinegar to activate the bicarb. I would have thought this would curdle it somewhat, but you can always experiment and let me know how it goes!

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200*. I always ignore this instruction and figure I’ll do it later, but you really want your oven ready and hot for the instant your dough is ready – i.e. in about five minutes time. Pre-heat that oven now.
  • Measure out your flour and whisk the bicarb into it – it both saves sieving the flour and mixes the bicarb well.
  • Make a well and tip in your yoghurt-milk mix or buttermilk. Combine quickly.
  • Tip out onto the side and quickly knead – no more than a minute. You’re not looking for the smooth elastic dough of regular bread – you are making sure you’ve got the ingredients well mixed and that the bicarb has got chance to get to work. It will look lumpy, but so long as it’s mixed well, that doesn’t matter.
  • Roll into a round loaf shape and tip onto a floured tray, then cut a deep cross in the surface – about 2/3 the way through is fine.
  • Whack it straight into the oven and bake for 35-45 mins (depending on what your oven is like). It will be nicely brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it’s done.

You’ve made soda bread!

Some variations

  • Cheese and red onion

Just knead in a few generous handfuls of grated cheese and a little bit of fried onion when you knead out the dough, and bake as normal. If you’re brave, you can always caramelise the onion with a splash of port by flambeeing it (not for the faint-hearted – lots of flame!)

  • Just cheese

As above, but no onion. (duh)

  • Chilli

Chilli bread is tricky – I found that just adding fresh/lightly fried chilli wasn’t enough – it just lost its heat as it baked, if not the flavour. Try adding a dash of cayenne powder, and a chopped up chilli as you knead for some spicy bread. You could even go nuts with the spice and lob in some cumin and coriander to go with a curry.

And now you know how to make sodabread!

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