When I moved to Ireland, shopping for groceries was the first thing I did. I needed the basic ingredients for my kitchen. I bought tradition Irish bread and flour in a bakery. I wanted to make a home-made cake. After shopping, I baked an apple cake and I was very surprised when I saw the cake after baknig. The cake was huge and tasted a little too much of soda. I didn’t know what had happened because that recipe is without soda. As it turned out, I had bought flour with the addition of soda. I was wondering why the Irish added soda to flour.
The answer was on a wrapping of traditional Irish bread. It was soda bread.
In the book of the history of Irish cuisine I read that Ireland didn’t have a strong tradition of yeast bread making. The use of baking soda as a leavening agent is quick, effective and it produced a much more consistent result than yeast did.The original soda bread contained nothing more than flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. The dough should not be kneaded too much.
I have never liked soda bread because it tastes to me like salt cake. However, Irish bread is different. It doesn’t taste as normal bread and is heavy and dense. Soda bread is made using either wholemeal or white flour but you can often find bread with the mixture of both types of flour. In some recipes, buttermilk is replaced by yoghurt or even stout.
I am not enthusiastic about soda bread and I don’t eat it every day but in a restaurant I always order soup and soda bread as a starter. Some restaurants bake their own bread and every one tastes different.
I ate the best bread in the north of Ireland.
Below there is a recipe for a traditional version of this bread.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
1 ½ cups wholemeal flour1 cup white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 – 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 280 C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir together. Add buttermilk and mix with a large spoon (or with your hands, shaping your fingers into a “claw”) until the dough comes together. You might need two tablespoons more or less buttermilk depending on the weather. The dough should be moist, but not so sticky it is very hard to handle.
Shape into a round and place on baking sheet. Cut an X into the top with a sharp knife and bake for about 45 minutes, until dark golden. A toothpick will come out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before slicing.
This bread is best served soon after baking with Irish butter.