Fast, easy and tasty, soda bread is a great starter bread and a recipe that lets you fancy up home made soup or make Sunday breakfast a little more special without the complication of yeast and proving.
A note on acidity: Normally, this recipe calls for buttermilk, a somewhat acidic dairy product that most people don’t have in their fridge. I have swapped it for milk and vinegar. It can be made with any liquid – left-over stock, starchy potato-water, whey from making goats cheese – but it has to be acidic to activate the bicarbonate of soda. Vinegar or lemon juice provides the acid.
A note on wet dough: If you’ve ever worked with a soft, non-sticky yeast dough, forget all about it. This is a wet dough. It can be hopelessly sticky and still work. Don’t worry about sticky fingers, you don’t have to knead this, just shape it into a rough circle.
Serves: 4-8. Preparation: 15-45 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes. Stores: For a day or two in a bag. For up to three months in the freezer: let cool completely and slice before bagging and freezing.
- 250 grams plain flour
- 250 grams wholemeal flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 420 ml milk or soya milk
- 1.5 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons treacle or syrup (optional)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped herbs, sage or thyme, are good (optional)
- Extra plain flour for dusting the work surface.
- Large bowl
- Measuring jug
- Tablespoon measure, or table spoon
- Teaspoon measure, or teaspoon
- Pestle and mortal (if using seeds)
- Chopping board (if using fresh herbs)
- Sharp knife (if using fresh herbs)
- Wooden spoon
- Baking sheet
- Greaseproof paper
- Wire rack (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
- Put the bowl on the scales and zero.
- Weight out the flour into the bowl.
- Add the bicarbonate of soda and mix well. The soda should be evenly distributed for a good, even rise.
- Grind and chop spices and herbs (if using).
- In the measuring jug, measure out the treacle (if using). This is where the stickiness starts. Don’t worry about it being too accurate. (It’s about 5 grams, if you prefer to weight it out.)
- Add the liquid and acid to the jug, then the spices and herbs.
- Let sit for five to ten minutes. This lets the spices infuse a little, and it also lets the milk curdle. Don’t worry that it doesn’t look very pretty.
- Mix most of the liquid with the flour. Keep a little back, say 20 ml, to add if the dough is too dry.
- Mix quickly – using your hands is fast and efficient, but a wooden spoon works too.
- Flour the work surface and tip out the dough.
- Knead it quickly, if it’s not too wet. If very wet, sprinkle with more flour.
- Shape into a rough round.
- Put the greaseproof paper on the baking sheet and move the dough there. Smooth and even into a roundish shape.
- Cut the round into 4 pieces and move slightly apart.
- Leave for up to half an hour to let the bicarbonate start its work. (Or cook as soon as the oven is hot enough.)
- Cook in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until dark brown. Tap it on the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready. If it doesn’t, leave for another five minutes and try again. (You can also break the pieces apart – if they come away cleanly, they’re cooked. If there are raw of sticky strands between the two pieces, it needs more time.
- Let cool completely in a wire rack.
- Break into quarters.
Serve either cut into slices, or cut each quarter half lengthwise. It’s great with soup, or with cheese. Did I mention goats cheese? It is best on the day it is made but toasts nicely and is tasty that way for another couple of days.
- Add veg: finely grate a carrot or small courgette and add to the dough.
- Super-plain: exclude sweetener and flavourings for a plain as you can be – but still yummy – soda bread.
- Play with flours: I like to use half the quantity of wholemeal and make up the difference with 125 grams wholemeal rye. It makes the bread a little darker and adds an earthy flavour.
- Go mediterranean: Swap the spices for about two teaspoons of dried herbs: thyme, oregano, rosemary, swap treacle for honey (or leave out), use balsamic vinegar as the acid and sprinkle with sea salt before cooking.
- Make it a loaf: Put the dough in an oiled loaf tin, cut through the middle to make a deep valley, and put it in a 200C oven. After half an hour, reduce the heat to 160C and leave for another 30 minutes. (If the loaf looks dark, cover with aluminium foil.) The load sounds