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How to make Irish Soda Bread is what I have called this recipe, because the very idea of Soda Bread is so closely associated with home, Ireland.
The idea of using Soda in baking became popular in the early 1800’s and it meant that everyone in Ireland could make bread, even though, almost nobody had an oven, as they cooked everything over the Open Hearth Turf Fire.
So instead the bread was baked whilst suspended on a Crane that allowed a cast iron pot, which was called an ‘Oven Pot’ and was lidded. also known as a ‘bastible’… although I have always associated the word Bastible with Basting, in reality it appears that it comes from the fact that these cast iron Bastible Pots were made in the English town of Barnstable…. Modern versions of Bastible Pots often have raised lids with protruding handle for lifting the lid… these are invariably of a design that would be more of a Dutch Oven Origin, and obviously not designed for making Irish Soda Bread, as the hot coals would fall off the lid.
Towards the end of the baking process, when people used an open hearth fire, it was normal to add some burning coals on top of the lidded metal Oven Pot. The coals were lifted with long metal tongues, which were also used to lift the lid off the oven.
Bicarbonate of Soda, or Bread Soda, is a fine powder derived from Salt which when added to Buttermilk or Milk causes a reaction that helps bread to rise, and Leavens it without the use of Yeast and also means that there is no Kneading required.
Buttermilk was originally a byproduct of churning butter, which was commonly done in Irish Country Homes, but nowadays, buttermilk can be bought from supermarkets, usually in the Fresh Milk section of the shops.
Soda Bread is just about as simple as it gets in breadmaking, and the fact that you do not need the live yeast, nor even fresh milk, means that, even if you live up a Lonnen or a Boreen, and a long way from any shop, you can still survive for weeks, while using your available ingredients. The thought of Such self sufficiency in this day and age is quite satisfying.
Bread was made freshly every day in homes in the Irish Countryside, and it has always had more status than it would in other countries such as the UK, where bread is sometimes regarded as a filler, or something to hold a sandwich together.
The idea of Home Baking, in recent years, seems to have taken on an elevated image, and it is sometimes even referred to as being a therapeutic activity, but its difficult to imagine a person in an Irish Farm Kitchen, having such thoughts during their lifetime of baking their Daily Bread…. I think it’s unlikely that such a thought would even occur to those people, as they had never experienced the unease of modern humans, being now so detached from our roots, that we cannot even imagine what it must have been like to devote some hours every day, to make our own bread, using only ingredients that we had produced ourselves, around our own farm
Even to this day, it would seem strange to be offered only a cup of tea when visiting an Irish home, without also expecting to be sat down to a selection of breads, often including Soda Bread, or Wheaten Bread, although modern life often dictates that these breads are now bought from shops.
2 Cups of Buttermilk*
4 1/2 Cups of Plain Flour
1 Teaspoons of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1 Cup of Raisins, if using.
*If buttermilk is not available, Sour Milk can be used. Fresh Milk can be soured, by whisking in plain yogurt or squeezing in lemon juice, or adding some clear distilled vinegar. But, even fresh milk can be used, but not always a success, because the soda doesn’t react so well.
The simplest way of obtaining Soured Milk is to leave it out of the fridge for about three days.
Mix the Flour, Baking Soda, and Salt in a bowl. Use a few tablespoons of flour/soda mix to cover the baking tray. and keep back a few tablespoons of the dry flour/soda mix, to adjust mix if needed. Add raisins, and stir in if using, Quickly add the buttermilk while folding it into the flour with a wooden spoon. Avoid handling more than the minimum, as the less handling, the lighter the bread will turn out to be.
There should be no dry flour to be seen in the mix, but if so, just add some more flour/soda mix. The mix should not be sticky.
Once mixed, lightly press the dough into a round shape onto a floured baking tray, to about 1 inch thickness and cut a deep cross pattern into the dough. This Cross allows the bread to cook more in the deepest centre, and also means that when baked, the scone of bread can be easily be divided into quarters, or Farls as they are called. It was also believed that the cutting the cross into the scone of bread would keep out the evil spirits. It is also a good idea to stab a few holes across the top with a knife before placing into the oven, as this also assists with getting the heat towards the centre of the baking bread. You may have to put the stab cuts through open fingers holding down the top crust as the dough mix may stick to the knife, and break up otherwise.
It will often be shown in many online recipes that the scone of bread is almost an oval topped mound shape. this was never traditional, and although it may look attractive on camera, because the scone centre would be so dense, it would very likely end up uncooked inside, or burnt on the top, before being baked, so if the Irish Farmhouse Kitchens have discovered that baking a scone from a flat, approximately, 1 inch round shape works, I would be reluctant to try to do it differently.
Bake in a Pre Heated Oven for about 40 mins on 180 degrees Cent. or until a light golden brown colour.,, ,
As well as the colour of the bread being a guide, another test is to tap the underneath of the scone, and you should hear a hollow sound, when fully baked.
Once baked, remove the tray from the oven, and leave to stand for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool and cover with a tea towel which can even be a damp tea towel, as this will assist with keeping the crust a bit softer. The bread is ready to be sliced within about half an hour of cooling on the wire rack, but would normally not be eaten while still hot, as it is usually too doughy, and difficult to digest.
Once sliced, it can be enjoyed with butter and jam and stores well for a couple of days, if kept sealed.
Other variations include using wholemeal floor, but it is easier to mix half and half plain and wholemeal flour, so as to not to have bread that ends up too heavy. Ironically, although Wholemeal bread is considered very respectable these days, and highly approved for our health, in the distant past, Wholemeal Bread was the most common daily fare, and white flour was only for special high days or holiday treats, as it was more expensive, because it required more of a refining process…. how the world changes fashions!
Other acceptable additions that can be added and mixed to the dry flour, are Porridge Oats, or even Museli , or an egg beaten in to the milk, and even cut up cold butter and sometimes sugar can be added to taste.