If you only learn how to make one Irish recipe, learn how to make soda bread. If you visit Ireland you’re bound to have it at some point, either served at breakfast in a B&B with butter and jam (my favourite way to have it) or a slice or two alongside a bowl of soup. You’ll often find brown soda bread too, which is a white soda’s wholemeal cousin. With so few ingredients, soda bread takes only minutes to make — your oven won’t even have finished preheating by the time it’s ready — and only half an hour to cook, plus it lends itself to all sorts of additions and tweaks. It’s a handy little recipe to have up your sleeve.
Superstition says that bread marked with a cross wards off evil, but the Irish slant is that it protects it from the fairies, who were liable to jinx your baking. A more prosaic explanation for the cross is that it prevents the bread from cracking and lets the heat penetrate the loaf while it’s baking. Either way, better safe than sorry, right?
This recipe is delicious as it is, but soda bread is incredibly versatile. Once you’ve made the basic recipe, try some of these variations (though the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread might take exception to your bread still being called soda bread if you do!):
- Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and add 50 g (1/3 cup) raisins to make a fruit soda (also sometimes called spotted dog instead of soda bread)
- Add a few tablespoons of various seeds for a multiseed soda
- Fresh herbs, especially thyme, chives or parsley
- Cooked, chopped bacon, grated cheddar cheese and sliced scallions or chives
- Wild garlic, sliced into thin ribbons
- Thinly sliced dillisk for a seaweed soda bread
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
- 2 tablespoons treacle
- Cut the dough into circles and cook for only 20 minutes to make white soda scones
- Rachel Allen’s soda focaccia
- Catherine Fulvio’s pesto pinwheels
- Use it as a base for a quick and easy, if unconventional, pizza
Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
No buttermilk? No problem! Just add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 250 ml (1 cup) of milk, stir and wait a few minutes, and voila! You have soured milk as a substitute.
450 g (3 3/4 cups) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
400 ml (1 2/3 cups) buttermilk, shaken well
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper (for a round loaf) or grease or line a loaf tin.
Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl, then whisk them together to make sure they’re combined well. Pour in the buttermilk and using a wooden spoon, stir everything together until it forms a dough (or you can mix everything together by hand instead). The dough will be wet and shaggy at this point. Lightly dust your work surface and your hands with flour, then turn the dough out and knead it gently, just until it comes together a bit better. Pat it into a smooth circle 1 inch deep and transfer it to the lined baking tray, then cut a deep cross in the centre. Alternatively, form it into a loaf and place in a greased or lined loaf tin.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, checking it halfway through the cooking time to rotate the tray and ensure it isn’t browning too quickly. When it’s done, it should be golden brown and the bottom will sound hollow when you tap it. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before you slice it. Soda bread is best eaten on the day it’s made, but any leftovers are excellent when toasted.