Until this last year I had not been an enthusiastic bread maker. But then with lockdown, needs must, and so kneading it was. Also during the warm summer weather the over-heating conservatory was an ideal spot for dough proving.
I was surprised at how well my wholemeal, spelt and kamut loaves turned out.
But with the cooler days, proving was taking longer and the bread never seemed to be ready when I wanted it. Enthusiasm waned. And then I remembered soda bread. Or rather I happened to see an old episode of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage wherein Ruby Wax, celebrity comedian but non-cook, had been charged to make soda bread. It looked so easy. And so quick. And even through the screen you knew the bread was delicious.
Next came some research. One stumbling block was obtaining a seeming key ingredient – butter milk. It was not to be found in Much Wenlock. Then I discovered natural live yogurt would do instead. Or even milk (dairy or non-dairy) plus a tablespoon of lemon juice or cider vinegar to activate the soda.
Some of the recipes seemed to have too much bicarb. I did not want to be able to taste it. And so here is the recipe I’ve come up with. It takes a few minutes to throw together, and a little over 30 minutes in the oven.
Oven (fan-assisted) 200 C
400 gms of flour: I use 260 gm wholemeal spelt flour and 140 gm of strong white bread flour;
1 very slightly rounded teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda;
1 level teaspoon of sea salt;
300 ml liquid: natural live yogurt:
OR milk (dairy or plant-based) with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice/cider vinegar; or a mixture of yogurt and milk and a good squeeze of lemon juice. I’ve also used slightly ‘gone off’ milk.
Mix it all together with a spatula, then shape into a round (not too much fiddling);
Place on floured baking sheet.
THEN THE MOST IMPORTANT BIT:
Slice a deep cross across the top of the loaf.
This may serve 3 purposes:
A) Let out the fairies;
B) Give protection from the devil:
C) Help the loaf to cook evenly.
Cook in a hot oven and check at around 30 mins. The bread is done when a knock on the bottom produces a good hollow sound.
Soda bread is best eaten fresh, but it will keep a couple of days in a cake tin, and it does make the most excellent toast. Delicious with homemade Seville marmalade or wild honey.
For a savoury version: 125 gms of grated strong cheese can be added to this recipe plus some herbs of choice.