At Ballymaloe Cookery School, one of the first things everyone is taught to make is a good Irish soda bread. I too think that this is one of the most useful basic recipes for anyone to have in their repertoire.
It is my strong belief that eating good quality, real food is one of the best things we can do to protect our health, and that of our families, and that is why I don’t buy any ready-made, pre-packaged or big branded foods. This is because I want to know exactly what is in the food I eat and cook for my friends and family. I also want to make the most nutritiously beneficial food I can. And, of course, home made food tastes so much better.
Some people think I’m mad. Some think I’m making a rod for my own back. I am fortunate that I can cook well and that I can usually make the time to cook, but I suppose it boils down to priorities. Eating good, nutritious food every day is a priority of mine. This belief was reaffirmed last weekend, when I read another superb piece by Joanna Blythman from her new book in the Guardian Weekend supplement. I urge you to read it too.
Thinking back to soda bread, I make it as nutritious as I can by using an Organic locally milled flour. My nearest mill is Stoates in Dorset, and their flour is sold widely in my local area. If you are interested in finding your local mill, then Vanessa Kimbell has produced an excellent map of the UK’s artisan flour mills, which is a great resource to know about. To make a brown soda bread, simply substitute half of the white flour with wholemeal flour.
In Ireland, buttermilk is much more widely available than it is in the UK. The most readily available buttermilk here in the UK is pretty grim stuff, so I choose to make my own, by souring fresh milk with fresh lemon juice. By doing this, it allows me to use local, Organic non-homogenised milk, rather than a mass-produced product. Interestingly too, my method actually makes it easier to control the quantity of buttermilk you use in your bread, as you require more buttermilk if it’s of a thick consistency, than you do if it’s a thin consistency. Buttermilk brands vary more than full-fat milk does, and you therefore get a more consistent result. I’ve also made this using almond or soya milk for my sister, who is vegan, and it works very well indeed.
It’s so quick and easy to make soda bread, and for me, living where I do, it’s definitely quicker to prepare a loaf of soda bread than it is to drive to the local shop and back. There is something irresistible about a freshly baked homemade loaf. Sometimes the very best things you can make at home are the simplest.
As a footnote, since I published this post, I’ve had dozens of emails from all around the world from so many of you who have enjoyed reading this post, and who have been inspired to make their own soda bread. It is so wonderful to hear from you all and so exciting to hear that people from all over the world, including Australia, Indonesia and the USA have been inspired to try my recipes over the last couple of days. Thank you to you all for reading and for your support.
- 450g plain white flour, plus a little extra for the worksurface
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 350ml whole milk (4% fat is what I use in the UK, for those of you who have emailed me from abroad!)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 220C Fan/240C. Set aside a large non-stick baking tray.
- Pour the lemon juice into the milk in a measuring jug and stir together. Leave for 5 minutes to form buttermilk.
- Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add around 300ml of the buttermilk. Stir to form a wet dough. You may need to use some of the remaining buttermilk to loosen the mixture.
- Sprinkle a little extra flour on the work surface. Then, tip out the bread dough and roll around gently in the flour to form a ball. Be gentle with the dough – you don’t want to knead it.
- Place the ball onto a floured baking tray and flatten a little. Flour a large, sharp knife and cut a deep cross in the bread. One small cut in each quarter is also essential to ‘let the fairies out’ as they say in Ireland.
- Bake for 15 minutes, before turning the temperature down to 180C Fan/200C and baking for a further 25-35 minutes until the bread is browned and feels light.
- Cool on a wire rack before breaking in half and eating. It’s best eaten on the day it’s baked, torn into pieces and either eaten with soup, or simply buttered.