Soda Bread is quintessentially Irish and Scottish and particularly characteristic of the northern part of Ireland. It doesn’t use yeast, with the result that it is much quicker to prepare and doesn’t need all that kneading and proving etc. From store cupboard to plate, it can take as little as 20 minutes – how handy is that?
It can also be made on either a griddle on a stove-top or in an oven. Soda bread on the griddle is traditionally made into farls, which are quarter-rounds or triangular pieces.
What’s even better is that you can use this mix with variations to make scones, focaccia-style bread, stollen and your own inventions. You can also use varying amounts of wholemeal flour although you might need some extra bicarbonate of soda to get sufficient rise.
The basic ingredients are self-raising soda-bread flour (or self-raising flour and bicarbonate of soda), buttermilk, salt, sugar and an optional egg. Soda-bread flour is hard to come by outside of Northern Ireland, so if you can’t find it, you can use self-raising flour and add some bicarbonate of soda. The egg is optional, but it gives the finished product an extra richness.
First, sieve 3 cups of the soda-bread flour (or 3 of s-r flour and 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda) into a mixing bowl. Add a lightly beaten egg and 1 cup of buttermilk, and a pinch of salt and sugar to taste, mix thoroughly but gently with a large fork until you get a sticky and reasonably firm mix. You can add a bit more buttermilk or flour until you feel you have the right consistency.
Try not to overwork the mix, as the final product may not rise as well if handled too much.
Turn it out onto a floured board and gently flatten out the dough to about 1.5 to 2 cms (about the width of a little finger). You could experiment with the thickness as you progress, to see what works for you. Then cut it into quarters with a sharp knife, wiggling the knife to separate the quarters. They should hold their shape, otherwise it is too wet and needs more flour.
Place these onto the griddle, which should be dry, pretty hot (too hot to touch but not smoking). They should be cooked on one side for about 10 minutes, and when the top becomes a bit distended (like a pregnant tummy as Mary is wont to say), they can be turned – the other side should look moderately brown. After another few minutes (no more than 5), they should be ready to take off – the two sides should look similar. Place them on their side at the edge of the griddle to dry out and make sure the edges are cooked, turning them after a minute to do this evenly.
Take off to cool, or eat immediately.
To cook in the oven, place the round on a floured baking tray, flatten it out a bit but you can keep it about 5 cms thick. Score the surface with a cross and place in a fairly hot oven for about 15 minutes. If it isn’t ready, keep giving it another 2 or three minutes until cooked. You’ll know it’s cooked when it sounds hollow when you rap the bottom with your knuckle.
This recipe isn’t exact, and any bread will need a few attempts before you get the result you’re happy with. However, the good thing is that it will always taste brilliant and you will feel very proud of yourself for having made such a delicious loaf of bread.