Irish soda bread

Upon arrival at our cottage in County Donegal, our lovely host Kate delivered a freshly baked loaf of Irish soda bread. She said it was incredibly simple to make, so I figured I would give it a try. Wanting to stay true to an Irish recipe, I used one from Rachel Allen.

MAKES 1 LOAF

450g (1lb/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 level tsp white granulated sugar
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
350-425ml (12-15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk

Preheat the oven to 425°F (230°C).

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be fairly soft, but not too wet and sticky.

When it comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1½in) deep and cut a deep cross in it. Some say this tradition of cutting a cross in the top is to let the fairies out before baking.

Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 400°F (200°C), and cook for 30 minutes more. When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour. Rachel suggests turning it upside down for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm with fresh Irish butter. Or toast up for breakfast with your favourite spread.

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