Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Going out for brunch used to be one of my favourite things to do when I lived in Montreal. I can think of at least half a dozen places around the island that do a fantastic brunch; we were spoiled for choice. There is nothing like a proper Montreal bagel, piled high with smoked salmon and slathered in cream cheese. From dubious-looking diners to the trendiest bistros, you didn’t have to go far to get a good brunch. When we travel to America, at least one big fat breakfast is a must. The Cottage in La Jolla, California produces some amazing dishes out of a tiny, packed restaurant. They do a French toast stuffed with mascarpone and strawberries that is to die for – a whole plate of that stuff every day might possibly kill you, but it’s a lovely, lovely treat. Brunch is about indulgence: it’s sleeping in, taking your time to get ready to face the day, reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee while the kids bounce on their beds, and not having to be anywhere at any particular time.

Brunch isn’t really that common in England, outside of the house. There are restaurants that offer brunch in London and there is the “all day breakfast” everywhere else, but you don’t often hear people talk about heading out for brunch. Although I miss the dishes we get back home, the British really know how to do breakfast. The fry up is a thing of great joy, particularly after an evening of overindulgence. We’ve got the Ulster Fry, Full English, Full Scottish, Full Irish, and the Welsh Breakfast – infinite regional variations and versions to suit personal taste. Most fry ups include back bacon, British sausages (the kind that I’ve never managed to find anywhere else), and eggs. The sides can include any number of things: baked beans, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, black pudding, laverbread, toast, soda or potato bread, fried bread, and with recent American influences, hash browns are sometimes added. You’re either in the ketchup or brown sauce (HP Sauce) camp – or neither, if you’re a purist. In the summer (what we get of it), we cook most of our fry up on the barbecue. Along with the roast dinner, a fry up is our family’s Sunday tradition.

Soda bread isn’t typically found on the brunch plate in England, but it’s a staple for Irish breakfasts. It’s also absolutely delicious with a big bowl of soup or stew. You can add herbs, seeds, or substitute a little wholewheat flour. Use this recipe as a base and add whatever you fancy.

I used Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s recipe: http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/classic-soda-bread/. Amongst many other things, he recently did a brilliant television series about everyday cooking to encourage people to grow their own vegetables and bake their own bread. Bread baking is sort of my Achilles heel; I like to leave it to the experts because I’m pretty bad at it. Let’s not even discuss my consistently awful scones that resemble beige hockey pucks. Soda bread is fairly foolproof, even for this fool. It’s best eaten right away, but it makes fantastic toast the next day if you don’t gobble down the whole loaf in one day. It’s a little more dense than a typical white loaf, but lighter than a scone. It’s rustic and looks homemade, which is exactly how it should be.

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (500g) plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 3/4 cups (400 ml) buttermilk or plain (full fat) yoghurt*
  • *If you don’t have buttermilk or plain yoghurt, don’t panic. You can make buttermilk by adding 1 Tbsp of lemon or white vinegar to 400ml (1 scant cup) of whole milk, and letting it stand for a  few minutes. Isn’t that clever? Thank you to my mother’s ancient church cookbook for that tip.

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C)

Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and add the salt.

Making a well in the centre, pour in the buttermilk, stirring as you pour.

Stir until just combined.

The dough should be fairly sticky, but add a little milk if it seems too dry.

Flour the counter well.

Turn out the dough and knead for about a minute, just to form it into a ball.

You want to get it in the oven fairly quickly so the baking soda can get to work.

Flour a cookie sheet or pizza stone and place the ball of dough on top.

Flour the top of the dough.

Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top, about 2/3 of the way through. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the bread sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom.

Leave to cool on a wire rack for a crispy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel to cool for a soft crust.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Laura
    April 20, 10:04 Reply

    I’ve only ever seen Irish Soda Bread recipes that contain currants or sultanas … both of which my children dislike. This is definitely going to become my new recipe!

  2. Lisa Durbin
    April 20, 10:57 Reply

    I’m with your children on that one – I can’t bear anything with dried fruit in it! My kids loved this bread and it’s something they can help make. Please let me know what you think if you do end up making it.

  3. Julie Crooks
    April 20, 11:26 Reply

    I’ve had soda bread a few times as part of an Ulster Fry but the shop bought stuff never looks this good, will have to give it a try. Sure himself would appreciate it – although maybe not on his new diet! If you were to include wholemeal flour how much would you substitute?

  4. Lisa Durbin
    April 20, 18:08 Reply

    Jules, in any bread recipe I wouldn’t go much higher than 50/50 wholemeal to white flour. I’ve never had any luck baking with wholemeal only. You may need to add more liquid, but have a play and see how it goes.

  5. Hugh
    April 20, 19:59 Reply

    Lisa, you missed another essential accompaniment to the Full English: a pint (20 oz, please) of Real Ale.

  6. Susan Runham
    March 17, 08:31 Reply

    Lisa, my mum swears by full fat Greek yoghurt for her soda bread and it is delicious. One of the many blessings of having an Irish mother.

  7. Lisa Durbin
    March 17, 15:45 Reply

    I will have to try it with yoghurt, Susan. I may have to steal your mum’s recipe! 🙂

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