Claire’s Irish Sodabread
I want to tell you about Irish Sodabread. Firstly it’s delicious (of course), secondly it’s made to a traditional recipe. It contains only good wholesome, natural ingredients.
Sodabread is best eaten warm with lashings of butter and homemade jam. Yum!
A bit of Sodabread history
Irish baking over the centuries has been affected by two main factors. The first is our climate. The influence of the Gulf Stream prevents both great heat in the summer and severe cold in the winter. As a result, hard wheats, which require these extremes of temperature, don’t prosper in Ireland. These wheats are used to make flour with a high gluten content that responds well to being raised with yeast. Soft wheat’s do grow well in Ireland and these respond to a different kind of baking, one of which is sodabread.
The other factor which influences baking in Ireland has been the abundance of firewood. Ireland’s various medieval overlords could never exercise the tight control over forest land that landowners did in less wild areas, like England.
This meant that Irish people had less trouble getting their hands on firewood. Where there was no wood, there was almost always heather, and turf. I remember cutting and using turf as a child.
In Ireland, “plain” sodabread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. I used to eat sodabread at any occasion – toasted or just spread with jam and butter.
Buttermilk is the only suitable mixing liquid: its acidity helps activate the bicarbonate of soda, releasing the carbon dioxide bubbles that make the bread rise. Butter was mainly churned at home on the farm so this excess liquid was invaluable as a cooking ingredient.
Claire’s Traditional White Soda Bread
An Irish favourite that is served every day with main meals and in-between! This is the basic recipe but there are so many sweet and savoury variations that you can try – chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, cubes of crispy bacon, cheese. The deep cross in the loaf is supposed to let out the fairies – so that the bread won’t be jinxed by evil spirits! In reality, of course, it’s just to allow the heat to penetrate the loaf as its cooking.
Makes 1 Loaf
Difficulty – Easy
Greased baking tray or a greased casserole pot
450g (1lb) plain flour
1 level tsp caster sugar (optional)
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
350-425ml (12-15fl oz) buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F), Gas mark 8. Sodabread is like a massive scone and loves a nice hot oven.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk. Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be fairly soft. You don’t want a wet and sticky dough but a nice firm dough you can handle easily.
3. Once it comes together turn it onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Be VERY gentle. We don’t want to work it or knead it like other breads. The bicard and buttermilk will have started working so we want to get it in the oven as quickly as we can. Gently pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it with a sharp floured knife. Do not cut right through. Only about three quarters way. Brush liberally with any left over buttermilk. This will give a nice golden colour.
4. Place on your prepared baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6 and cook for 30 minutes more.
5. You will know it is cooked, when the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour. Turn it upside down for the last 5 minutes of cooking. I still get a slightly sticky center occasionally, as I impatiently get it out too early! I just eat around that bit. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy with real butter and jam.
Make the dough as above but flattened into a round approximately 2.5cm (1in) deep. Cut into scones or into triangles and cook for 15-20 minutes at 230°C (450°F), Gas mark 8.
Add 2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs – such as rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, parsley or lemon balm – to the dry ingredients, and make as above for great baps to accompany a meal.
You can also add fruit to your liking. Sultanas, cherries, apple and cinnamon, just use your imagination. You add anything you like really.
As a child we always added sultanas for a sweet loaf. Delicious!
Next I will look at ovens and their different types. Which oven is best for baking and does it make a difference which one you use and are there any tips for their use?
- Building Blocks of Baking – Part 5 Buttermilk (bakewithclaire.wordpress.com)
- The Soda Bread Experiment (whirlwindcrossroads.wordpress.com)
- Soda Bread – 45 Minutes – 4 Ingredients (inlovewiththelord.wordpress.com)