For a long time in Ireland the only bread readily available, except for in the cities, was Soda Bread. Easy to bake on a hearth stone or in an oven, it was quick to make and as likely to be served with the main meal of the day to soak up gravy as it was to appear with breakfast in the morning.
The one I have here today is the cake type. Simply mixed, kneaded lightly and then shaped into a round and baked on a baking sheet or baking stone. There is also a flat type, or farl. which is more like a heavy pancake, rolled out and cut into triangles, and then baked on a griddle or in a heavy skillet rather than in an oven.
Both are equally as easy to make and delicious . . . as long as you follow a few rules, main one being to handle the dough as little as possible . . . kinda like scones or American style biscuits. I like to make sure all my ingredients, including the buttermilk are at room temperature as well.
Sift the dry ingredients together a few times to aerate the flour, and evenly distribute the soda throughout. Put the sifted dry ingredients in a good big bowl (you want stirring room) and make a well in the center. Pour about three-quarters of the buttermilk in, and start mixing in with your fingers, the two best tools ever invented. You are trying to achieve a dough that is raggy and very soft, but the lumps and rags of it should look dryish and "floury", while still being extremely squishy if you poke them. Add more liquid sparingly if you think you need it.
Blend quickly and lightly until the whole mass of dough has become this raggy consistency. Then turn the contents of the bowl out immediately onto a lightly floured board or work surface, and start to knead. Don't knead it for any longer than about 15 seconds. Any longer than that and you risk a tough bread. Lightly shape it into a rough round about 6-8 inches in diameter, and put it on the baking sheet (which should be dusted lightly with flour first). Then use a very sharp knife to cut a cross right across the round. The cuts should go about halfway down through the sides of the circle of dough, so that the loaf will "flower" properly.
Bake for a good 45 minutes, without disturbing, and then tap the bottom. If it sounds hollowish it is done! For a crunchy crust, put on a rack to cool. For a softer crust, as above, wrap the cake in a clean dishcloth as soon as it comes out of the oven. I Like mine warm and spread with butter and sweet red jam.
I think it's the child in me. I just can't help myself.
*Irish Soda Bread*
Makes 1 loaf
Quick, easy and tasty. Those Irish sure know what they are doing!
450g of plain flour (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
14 fluid ounces of buttermilk (1 3/4 cups)
Preheat the oven to 220*C/425*F/ gas mark 7. Lightly butter a baking tray. Set aside.
Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Whisk in sugar if using. Make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the butter milk, holding a little back. Use your fingers and get stuck in mixing it all well together to make a soft, but not sticky dough. If necessary add the remaining buttermilk.
Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. It's important not to overknead the dough. 15 to 20 seconds is enough time. . Shape into an 8 inch round. Place onto the prepared baking tray.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Test that the loaf is cooked by turning it over and tapping it on the bottom with yout knuckles. It should sound hollow. Place on a wire rack to cool. Serve cut into slices. Goes well with soup and stews.