I have a policy and it’s a good one – when a bottle of anything comes knocking on my door, I let it in. And so it was last week when the folks from La Motte wine estate sent over two gorgeous ribbon-festooned bottles of their specialist jams from the La Motte farm shop for me to try. Strawberry, lemongrass and ginger? Sounds good. Kumquat and mulled wine? Even better. (Note to self: start making jam with wine.)
What with having a fashion-forward jam on hand, a slice of warm bread fresh out the oven seemed like a good idea. The 7-day-old, pre-sliced store bread I had in the fridge didn’t exactly have me salivating. The French verdigris-green mold I spotted on one slice was the clincher – I needed to make bread. Making bread is obviously way less effort than driving to the shops. No, really, it is – IF you don’t muck around with yeast.
Now there are few things I consider finer than yeast. It’s responsible for wine after all. And for some of the most delicious carb-fests man has ever thought up – from ciabatta, to croissants, baguette to brioche. But yeast, like so may fine things in life, needs time. Enter soda bread. The Irish lay claim to it – as in Irish Soda Bread – but it’s been made all over the world in various forms for yonks. What is it? Bread made with bicarbonate of soda (the raising agent) and some sort of acid, mostly buttermilk, to activate the bicarb. Yoghurt will also do, even milk if you also add cream of tartar.
Made from scratch, soda bread is ready for you to tuck into in under and hour. Of course with there being no yeast, no proving and no strong gluten development through kneading, soda bread is very different from other breads. It has a light crumbly texture, not dissimilar to scones. It really is best straight out of the oven. Cut it into thick slices and slather is with indecent amounts of salted butter that will make your GP frown. If you keep it ‘til the next day, it’s best to toast it.
Being scone-like in texture, I love it for breakfast and prefer my soda bread toast with a sweet topping. Think bananas caramelised in butter and a dash of maple syrup, topped with just a touch of crème fraîche. Or give your soda bread toast a generous dollop of sweetened vanilla mascarpone and tumble over a huge spoonful of glistening macerated strawberries. Now we’re talking. Soda bread – so easy my cat can make it.
All you need is…
275g wholewheat flour
175g white bread flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbs ice cold butter, cut in small blocks
extra white bread flour for dusting
Add all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. (Given that this soda bread recipe is so simple, I wanted to give it the edge by using really good stone ground, unbleached four, so I used the one from Eureka Mills. It can be found in all major supermarkets.)
Add the butter to it and rub through lightly with your fingers until the butter disappears. Now add the buttermilk. How much liquid you need is affected many things, including the kind of flour you are using. So start by adding 300ml. Add the remainder only if you need it, and a bit at a time. You want the dough to be soft and pliable, but not sticky and wet. Mix through quickly with a large fork or your fingers until combined.
Tip out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour and roll a few times until the dough comes together. Be quick and be light, this is not a dough that wants to be kneaded or messed with. Shape the dough into a ball and place it onto a floured non-stick baking tray. Press the dough flat (about 5cm thick) and make a deep cross-shaped incision with a sharp knife. Dust the top with some flour and bake in a 200 degree Celsius oven for 40-45 minutes until done. The bread is ready when it is brown and sounds hollow when you tap it underneath. This really is best served while warm.
1) Soda bread is a wonderful neutral base to play with. You can add spices like caraway seeds or dry herbs if you want to pair it with a soup. You can add nuts and raisins, or even cheese.
2) If you want a sweeter bread, add more sugar.
3) If you prefer a whiter bread, use more white bread flour and less wholewheat.