May 2, 2014

Irish soda bread

I discovered Irish Soda Bread a few years ago while living in Hong Kong, and it's one of those foods that obsessed me until I finally found a good enough recipe to reproduce at home. Tom and I have some wonderful friends among the local Irish community there, and used to celebrate with them at the annual St Patrick's Ball. Always a thrilling party, though every year when the speeches, the gala dinner and the dancing would be over, I would find myself getting excited for something very different from what seemed to keep everyone else exhilarated. While pretty much all the other guests would be watching the Six Nations rugby tournament with impressive animation, I on my side would be relishing the warm buns of soda bread invariably served along with a meat broth at midnight. Slightly warm and spread with a little melting butter, they surely made up for my lack of interest in the game :-)

Soda bread is a variety of quick bread in which baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The buttermilk contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Other ingredients can be added, such as raisins or nuts.

Ready in about 30 minutes, this recipe if perfect for a Sunday morning. Boil the eggs and squeeze some oranges while the bread is baking. Still warm from the oven and with melted butter on top, one could easily eat an entire loaf!

Ingredients (serves 5)
250g whole-wheat flour
250g bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
approx. 350ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Sieve and mix the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the buttermilk to the mixture. 

Rapidly punch down the mixture into a smooth dough, adding more buttermilk or more flour if necessary. Avoid working the dough too long as this would result in stiff and unleavened bread due to the immediate action of the acid in the buttermilk.

Quickly shape into a ball, place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and score a large cross in the middle using a knife. Immediately bake the bread in the middle of the hot oven for approx. 30 minutes.

The bread is ready when its crust is slightly brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Allow to cool slightly or completely before cutting.

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