Soda Bread by Saoirse and Clare

History

Traditionally, bread in Ireland was made in a skillet because the wheat that grew there was what’s called “soft” wheat, which contained less gluten than its counterparts in America. The domestic Irish wheat didn’t interact well with yeast and did not rise very well.

Hence, the introduction of baking soda as a leavening agent, which reacts with the buttermilk to form small carbon dioxide bubbles, approximating the chemical reaction of yeast.

What we consider traditional Irish bread came about because of the Native Americans, who used a sort of wood ash as a leavening agent to make bread without yeast. This method of making bread was introduced to Ireland in the 1830s.

Different types of soda bread are popular throughout Ireland, but all of them are pretty simple, everyday breads. They were found in every household to mop up stews or to enjoy with a cup of tea. The Northern Irish divide their dough into 4 triangles, while the Southerners made theirs round with a cross shape on top.

Ingredients

  • 500ml Buttermilk
  • 240 g of Wholemeal Flour
  • 400g Plain White Flour
  • ½ teaspoon of Salt
  • 2 teaspoons of Bread Soda

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. (hot oven)
  • Slightly heat the buttermilk in 20 second blasts in microwave until lukewarm.
  • Put all your dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl  ( Flours, salt and bread soda), aerate the flour through your fingers.
  • Make a well in your bowl with the back of a spoon.
  • Pour in ¾ of buttermilk into the mixture and bring together with 1 hand kneading lightly adding the remaining milk as necessary until your mixture is in a round shape.
  • Cut a deep cross onto the bread with a floured knife and then place it on a dusted (with flour) baking tray.
  • Place into your oven for 35-45 minutes  and until the bread is a golden brown colour.
  • Cool on a wire rack

Renewal

You can add ingredients like caraway seeds, currants, raisins, or honey. Modern Irish soda breads might contain nuts, orange zest, or even Guinness.

There are a few buttermilk that work well and will still react with the baking soda to make the bread rise. Kefir works especially well, or you can thin yogurt to the consistency of buttermilk using plain milk.

You can also acidify milk with lemon juice or white vinegar. Add 2 scant tablespoons to a measuring cup and top with whole milk to make 1 3/4 cups total. Stir and let sit for a few minutes until the mixture curdles.

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