The idea of making my own bread fascinates me. There’s nothing like the smell of bread fresh from the oven, and there’s nothing like the taste of that same bread sliced while still warm and then smothered in butter. I haven’t tried many bread recipes, and none that involve a packet of yeast (there’s an art to yeast bread, it seems). I’ve learned from the ones that I have tried and will continue to make them.
Irish Soda Bread
When people talk about Irish country bread, they mean bread made without yeast, leavened by bread (baking) soda or baking powder. The Irish love this traditional bread and its solid nourishment gives them more pleasure than almost any Irish food. It also gives them a feeling of continuity with the past; the Irish have never stopped making soda bread at home.
It is doubtful if anything was weighed much in the old days, people just didn’t have time. They threw handfuls of flour and oatmeal of different sorts into a bowl and mixed them with buttermilk. When the texture felt right, the dough was crossed deeply and bundled into a hot oven or cooking pot. Forty minutes later, it had become a loaf which was robust and individual.
Making Soda Bread
No bread pan is needed for country bread. It bakes far better when placed straight onto a floured baking sheet in the oven. You will need a wire rack and a clean tea towel (dish cloth) to wrap the loaf in after it is baked.
- 1 cup white (all-purpose) flour
- 3 cups brown (whole-wheat) flour
- 1 1/2 tsp bread (baking) soda
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (approx.)
This is the classic Irish recipe for brown soda bread. You can make white soda bread by using 4 cups of white flour. Some people put herbs into their bread, with good results. After you’ve tried it a time or two, feel free to experiment and see what you can come up with.
Sieve/sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in most of the buttermilk to make a loose dough, adding more if necessary. Turn the dough on to a floured board and knead it lightly. Form a round loaf. Turn the smooth side up. Flatten it carefully and cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 F for about 40 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow if you tap the base (you may need to turn it over for 5 minutes or so to achieve this.) Wrap the loaf in a clean dish towel and put it on a rack to cool.
I’ve made this hearty loaf a couple of times now and plan on doing so well into the future. While I greatly enjoyed my first loaf, be careful not to add too much buttermilk, as you can end up with a sticky mess of dough to contend with. Likewise, it does make a difference if you flip the loaf over for the last 5 or so minutes to let the bottom fully bake, you might have some doughy spots in the bottom if you don’t. If you don’t sift the flour you can end up with a brick-like loaf; if you don’t have a sifter, use a spoon to scoop out the flour so that it doesn’t get compressed in the measuring cup.
A few slices of this bread make for a quite filling sandwich, or a single buttered slice for a snack. A thick slice goes wonderfully with a soup or stew. I’m comfortable enough with the recipe to start experimenting now. I will be trying various herbs, some sugar, perhaps even some molasses. Who knows what I’ll end up with!
Now it’s your turn! Spend a few minutes mixing, set the timer for the oven and enjoy your freshly-baked homemade bread!