To continue on my wholesome country bumpkin theme (see my previous post about Surrey Docks farm), my Irish friend made me a beautiful soda bread loaf for breakfast the other day. When I marvelled at her domestic goddess skills, she told me it was super easy, and was kind enough to share the secret O’Brien family recipe. The joy of this is that it doesn’t use yeast, so there’s no waiting around for it to rise. Mix up the dry ingredients the night before, then finish it off and put it in the oven while you have a shower in the morning, and you can have delicious fresh bread for breakfast.
12 oz stoneground wholemeal flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 pint of buttermilk
First of all, pre-heat the oven to 200c, then mix all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Make a little dent in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Give it a quick mix then briefly knead it all in the bowl – the trick is to do this quickly and get the bread in the oven before the bicarbonate has kicked in.
Once you’ve done that, shape the dough into a fat round loaf and pop it on to a floured baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of the bread (this is an old Irish religious tradition).
Bake the loaf for around 35 minutes – you will know when the bread is ready if you tap it on the base and it has a hollow sound. Leave it to cool slighty, but serve fresh and warm (if possible), broken in to fat wedges with lashings of salted butter.
When I was 16 I went on a road trip in the South West of Ireland with my dad, staying at bed and breakfasts every night. That week was the best-fed week of my life – the breakfasts were glorious. Maybe it’s just because I associate the smell of freshly baked soda bread with that trip, the rolling rugged green hills and the changeable skies, but I think that there’s something magic about it. Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the Emerald Isle.