Bread. Not my strongest suit, but I am learning, and will share as I go. There is however a bread that is ridiculously easy to make which is quick, delicious and DOESN’T USE YEAST, it’s quick bread, or soda bread. It is so fast you can turn out a loaf from start to finish, including weighing and mixing in 45 minutes. Trust me.
Most people have heard of soda bread but never tasted it. I can only assume that is because the ‘soda’ element sounds off putting (whereas it’s only the name of the raising agent – bicarbonate of soda, rather than yeast. You can’t actually taste it).
Soda bread is also pretty much unavailable in the shops because it doesn’t keep fresh for long and the mass bakeries have yet to find a way to stuff it full of preservatives.
Essentially making a soda bread is like making a large scone, but easier. You don’t have to worry about handling the ingredients you just mash them all together.
I have made hundreds of soda bread loaves. It has become a favourite in our house and this is my recipe.
360g plain flour
140g wholemeal flour (Strong wholemeal flour is easy to find and fine for this recipe)
1 x tsp bicarbonate of soda (carefully measured)
1 x tsp table salt
1 x tbsp.sugar (it can be any sugar but dark muscovado, or preferably treacle give the loaf a richer taste)
40g soft butter (I prefer to use 40 ml of rapeseed oil. It’s healthier and you can just pour it in to the mix)
300 – 340ml of either plain yoghurt (the value stuff is fine), milk with an added tsp of lemon juice to sour it, milk that has gone off and is starting to smell (seriously – this actually gives it a superior creamy flavour*), or buttermilk. Every book that you will pick up will actually recommend or specify buttermilk for some reason. Paul Hollywood on the last series of Bake Off declared that you must use buttermilk. but there is no reason why you have to solely use buttermilk – it adds nothing to the flavour, it is merely acts as the acid to activate the bicarb.
*A recommendation from the fabulous baking boys.
A baking sheet
Large Mixing Bowl
Set your oven to 200 degrees.
Into the mixing bowl weigh in your plain flour, wholemeal flour and chuck in your salt. Carefully measure in your bicarbonate of soda (I scrape it exactly to the top of the measuring spoon using a knife blade) and drop it into the bowl.
Give the ingredients a rub through to mix them together.
Then add in your sugar, if you decide to use treacle (and it does give a superior colour and taste so is worth it), first smear your measuring spoon with vegetable oil before you plunge it in to the treacle as it will just drop off the spoon leaving it (fairly) clear. Then take a butter knife and swirl it through the dry ingredients in the bowl to mix it in.
Then add in your soft butter or rapeseed oil. Again swirl and cut it through the mix. Now get your hands into the bowl and rub in the butter/oil and sugar/treacle.
At this stage, if you like, you could chuck in up to three tablespoons of seeds – poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds go nicely.
You’ll need to work fairly quickly now. Check your oven is hot enough and pour a bowl of clean warm water ready for your hands. Dust some flour onto your baking sheet.
Take your liquid; yoghurt (or milk and lemon juice, or sour milk, or buttermilk) and pour it in to the mix and stir it in quickly with a butter knife. When you have stirred it in as much as you can you’ll need to get your hands in and finish it off. I haven’t specified a liquid amount as you’ll need enough to make it come together. It will be a sticky mess which you’ll need to shape into a rough ball and pace on the baking sheet.
Now plunge your hands into your bowl of water to wash off sticky the mix. While your hands are still slightly wet shape the ball some more (the water makes it easier). Dust the top with some flour then grab a knife and give the dough a cross cut across the top.
Quickly put the sheet and dough into the centre of the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.
And that’s it. Stick the kettle on and inhale the heavenly baking aroma.
Check it after 30 minutes, oven gloves on of course, it should sound hollow or drum like on the bottom and, pressing lightly into the cross cuts these should feel firm and not soft. If the ‘cross’ is still a bit soft stick it back into the oven again for another five minutes.
Put it on a cooling rack and leave it to cool. Unlike yeasted bread soda bread is delicious slightly warm, with butter (put the kettle on again!).
Soda bread will always look rustic and authentic. It is scrumptious and will impress your friends.
It is best eaten fresh. It won’t keep much longer than a day but you can slice it or break it into chunks and it freezes well too.
If you prefer, you can make this in a bread tin which will give you a more controlled shape and better ability to slice it (great for when you want to freeze it or use it for sandwiches).
Prepare as before. Take a large bread tin, pack the dough in, then take a wooden or silicon spatula to pack the dough into a loaf shape pressing the edges in.
Flour the top, then taking a wet sharp knife cut the dough length wise down to the base Then tease out the cut to make a V shaped channel along the length of the dough and put the loaf in the oven as before.