- Food & Drink
Standby soda bread
I don’t think there’s an easier bread to make than soda bread. A little sifting, some mixing and patting, then slam it into an oven and within the hour you have hot bread to burn your mouth and fingers on. So simple and yet, in the UK, so difficult.
It’s the buttermilk that’s the problem. In Ireland there’s a fridge shelf devoted to various buttermilks in every supermarket. Corner stores and even petrol stations have a few Tetrapaks on hand for emergency bread/scone baking. But in the UK it’s more of an illusive dairy product.
I used to go to Waitrose for it, who presumably stocked buttermilk because their clientele have exceptionally refined tastes when it comes to scones. Nowhere else had it. But now, thanks to the magic of closer ties with Eastern Europe, you can find buttermilk in some supermarket chiller cabinets, either near the creams or in the Polish Section or, confusingly, both.
But not everywhere has been enriched by immigration and there are still parts of this land where buttermilk is unheard of. In such dark, unenlighted places, you can replace buttermilk with sour milk, but deliberately letting milk go off to make a quick bread seems madly wasteful.
A better solution is to mix milk and yogurt. In the recipe below I used a mix of skimmed milk and fat free yogurt as buttermilk tends to be low in fat, but you could use whole milk and normal yogurt – the higher fat content will just give a richer bread.
When you’re measuring out the soda, make sure it’s level or your bread will have a green tinge (this was drummed into us by Darina). Level in a normal teaspoon means the soda should be completely flat – I smooth it out so I can see the rim. If you’re using measuring spoons I think you’ll need to use the 1/2 tsp measure and level that off.
Be warned that my friend and I polished off half a loaf for breakfast when this came out of the oven. It’s particularly good if you use 1/2 tsp fine table salt and 1/2 tsp coarse salt, so you get little gritty burst of saltiness in every bite.
Standby soda bread
Makes 1 loaf
450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml plain yogurt
1 Preheat the oven to 230°C/Fan 210°C/Gas 8. Dust a baking tray with a little flour.
2 Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a very large bowl. Mix the milk and yogurt together and pour most of it into the flour, leaving about 100ml fluid in the jug. Shape your hand into a stiff claw and stir it around the bowl, mixing the flour and milk and bringing it together to make a soft, light dough. If it’s not coming together, add more milk until it does.
3 Turn the dough out onto a work surface dusted with flour. Wash and dry your hands and then gently pat the bread into a round. Flip over and pat into a neat round. Lift onto the baking tray. Slash a deep cross into the bread and stab it in each corner with your knife.
4 Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven down to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Turn the bread over and continue baking for 10–20 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped. Best eaten on the day it’s made.