Soda bread, or wheaten bread as it is known, is very popular in Ireland and is made with baking soda rather than yeast. It’s normally made with buttermilk which is sold in litre cartons in every supermarket fridge on the island of Ireland. In England I was puzzled to discover that it is sold in small quantities in plastic tubs and you can’t always find it, although Polish shops often sell something very similar. If you can’t find buttermilk, you can curdle a mix of milk and water with lemon juice.
You can tinker with the quantities of wholemeal and plain flour – use half and half if you prefer. I often make it with 400g flour, 40g wheatgerm, 30g oats and 30g pinhead oats, a combination which I really like. I don’t like the idea of demanding you buy slightly niche ingredients to make something as bog standard as a loaf of bread but the wheatgerm and pinhead oats are a nice addition if you have them. I once accidentally left out the oil and added more buttermilk, thinking the dough was a bit on the dry side. It was still a nice loaf and had a very crusty crust.
I can’t lay claim to a treasured family recipe – the only Irish thing left about my mum’s family is their surname – but this recipe makes a nice loaf of bread. I think I might now be fully converted to soda bread after weeks in lock-down spent faffing around with lengthy rising and proving times. Having a warm, fresh loaf of bread within an hour and fifteen minutes is pretty good… There’s something about soda bread that lends itself well to a rustic appearance which suits me very nicely!
300g wholemeal flour
170g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon salt
1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
250 ml buttermilk or 125ml dairy or plant-based milk, 125ml water plus a tablespoon of lemon juice
70ml sunflower oil
- Pre-heat your oven to 180C and grease a baking tray. While it warms up, combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl. If you don’t have buttermilk, measure out 125ml of milk and 125 ml water and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Set it aside for few minutes.
- Add the oil to the dry ingredients in the bowl and combine gently – it will start to look a bit like breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk/curdled milk gradually. Mix it in carefully – this dough should not be kneaded. Once it has come together, it will be quite soft and wet but not sticky, similar to scone dough in feel and texture. I have found that the dough can randomly be thirstier than expected so don’t be afraid to add some more liquid if it’s a bit on the dry side. If you are using pinhead oats, the dough will need a bit more liquid than suggested above. (It’s not unusual to see soda bread recipes which use equal quantities of dry ingredients and buttermilk but this did not work for me – the dough was really sloppy and I needed to add more flour.)
- Shape the dough into a round and place on the greased tray. If you’d like to tidy the appearance up a bit, you can do this with damp hands. Cut a cross on the top with a knife. You can sprinkle some oats and seeds on the top before baking. (You can also make this in a standard 2lb loaf tin.)
- Bake for an hour and leave to sit for fifteen minutes before slicing. It’s lovely eaten fresh on the day and makes very nice toast on subsequent days.