The best thing since sliced bread

‘Fred, there’s no bread’ was a familiar slogan anyone as young as myself will recall from the Spar advert that aired during the 1980s.

Growing up in this decade, prior to the newsflash that a carb rich diet produced an expansive waistline, bread figured heavily on the menu from a slice of toast at breakfast to a lunchtime sandwich.

Skip back a generation or two and in Irish homes, freshly baked soda and wheaten rounds served with a dollop of real butter frequented many a breakfast table even though sliced bread was widely available in Ireland from the 1930s.

On a rare occasion my mother baked soda bread, but my grandmother was the master baker of the family. I have enquired about her soda bread recipe, but unfortunately she could not remember it exactly.

Her method of using cup measures of flour and an oven fuelled with turf engaged the senses of touch and sight during the bread making process, a method which has almost been made redundant by the precision called for in modern recipes.

Alas if only I had shown an interest in baking during my formative years, perhaps granny could have taught me to bake her way. Now the old school traditions are dying out and baking skills, passed down through generations will be lost forever…

So before this post becomes a Yeat’s-esque lament to ‘aul Ireland and her simple ways’ the onus is upon me to carry on the tradition of bread making; if there is no bread in my house Fred I will make my own.

The last two paragraphs may have been slightly dramatic, granny did actually tell me how to make potato bread (a recipe that will be shared in due course) and I can do this without a set scales and can now claim to be a self-taught soda bread maker.

It has taken trial, error and tweaking but I have found a recipe that is worth the time and effort and will surely make your foremothers proud – and could quite possibly be the best thing since sliced bread.

Irish soda bread with home made lemon curd jam

Irish soda bread with home made lemon curd jam

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

These measurements makes two loaves

  • 900 grams plain flour
  • 2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pint of buttermilk

Method

  • Pre heat the oven to 220 degrees.
  • Grease two loaf tins with butter. I used aluminium foil tins, see picture, the sizing is good and gives a better rise.

    Aluminium trays used to bake soda bread

    Aluminium trays to bake soda bread

  • Sieve all of the dry ingredients twice to ensure the bicarbonate of soda is well dispersed through the flour.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and gradually pour in the buttermilk.
  • Stir quickly to make a dough and transfer the mixture to a floured surface.
  • Knead the dough quickly for 15 seconds and then split in half and spread out evenly across the tins, getting into the corners.
  • Transfer to the middle rack of the oven and bake at 220 degrees for 10 minutes.
  • Lower the temperature to 200 degrees and bake for a further 35 minutes.
  • Do not open the oven door during the baking process as the loss of heat could affect how the loaves rise.
  • After 35 minutes take one loaf out of the oven and remove from its tin. Tap the bottom and if it sounds hollow it is ready. If the loaf still feels a bit squidgy bake for a further five to ten minutes.
  • Transfer the loaves to a wire rack and allow to cool. For a firm crust let them cool in the open air or if you prefer a softer finish place a clean, dry tea towel over the top.

    Soda bread

    Soda bread

  • Slice and serve with some real butter and a dollop of jam.
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