I love bread. I love easy, quick stuff. Why would I not love soda bread, the easiest, quickest bread ever? In theory at least, we are a perfect fit. But in practice my early efforts didn’t impress anyone, least of all me. They were claggy and stodgy. I gave up on soda bread and stuck to my (occasional only because hard work) 10 minute knead bread. (This was before I discovered the utter joy of no-knead bread.)
Then I went to Ireland for a holiday, and a couple of hours after rolling off the ferry found myself in a Limerick bakery, literally surrounded by the most delicious soda bread ever. I ate it every day, with jam, cheese, or just really good butter. I begged for the magic recipe, and was told I had to use buttermilk and special bread soda you could only buy in Ireland. I took home a huge bag of white powder and luckily wasn’t searched on the way off the ferry. And lo! the soda bread made with buttermilk and special Irish bread soda was great. But the bag of magic white stuff soon ran out. And it didn’t really work as emergency bread if I had to get buttermilk – I might as well just buy the bread.
Then I found this recipe on the side of a bag of Doves Farm flour, and I’ve been making it ever since. Everything in it is stuff I have in the store cupboard. It uses ordinary milk with cream of tartar to sour it. I’ve adapted it slightly by adding a little sugar (for nice caramelisation when it toasts), using half and half wholemeal and white flour, and baking in a pre-heated ‘Dutch oven’ – in this case my trusty Le Creuset casserole dish, bought for £3 from a boot sale. I picked that tip up from Nigel Slater’s lazy loaf: it makes it much easier to slice without losing the crunchy crust.
If you don’t have a pot, just bake it on a baking sheet as usual, or in a cake tin if you want a more structured shape. I sometimes add sunflower or pumpkin seeds for texture, or poppy or caraway seeds for flavour, and you can substitute a little honey or treacle for the sugar, and use more wholemeal or white flour. Make it the way you want to eat it!
Super-easy soda bread
- 8oz wholemeal flour
- 8oz plain white flour (plus extra for dusting)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tsps cream of tartar
- 11 fl oz milk (semi-skimmed or full-fat)
Start by switching your oven on to its highest heat setting and put your pot in to heat up for at least 15 mins, with the lid on.
Mix all the dry ingredients together (I use a knife), then pour all the milk in at once and stir just until it starts to come together as a dough. Shape it roughly into a ball in the bowl, dusting with just enough flour to stop it sticking to the bowl and your hands. Cut a deep cross in the top with a sharp knife.
Take your pot out of the oven, remove the lid and carefully drop the dough in, cross up. Put the lid back on, and put it back in the oven. Turn the heat down to 220C, Gas Mark 7 and bake for 35 mins by which time it should be risen, browned and crusty. Use a palette knife or silicon spatula to loosen the bread from the pot, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave till just warm or cold before slicing.
Super-easy, super-quick. And perfect for St Patrick’s Day with some lovely Cashel Blue cheese!