This method for baking Irish Soda Bread was shown to me by my mother, who was shown by her mother so it’s at least seven or eight decades old. I’m sure my grandmother was shown how to make this by someone of the previous generation so who knows how long this bread has been made in our family. It’s true parampara bread!
6 ounces of Cream Plain Flour (white flour)
1 teaspoon salt
Half teaspoon sugar
1 ounce butter (at room temperature) or 1 tablespoon oil
12 ounces coarse wholemeal flour (or non-coarse if you cam’t get it)
4 ounces oat flakes (optional)
4 ounces wheatgerm (optional)
Approx half a litre of buttermilk
White flour for kneading
A little more butter for greasing the dish
First of all, you will need to have the right dish. I use a cast iron casserole dish with a lid. If you bake the bread without a lid it will be very crispy on top. I always use the lid.
Grease your dish with a little butter and put it into the oven to heat up.
Preheat your oven to 240℃, 475℉ or gas mark 9 (in other words, very hot).
While the oven and the dish are heating up, put 6 ounces of cream plain flour (white), 1 teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of sugar into a sieve and sieve them into a large mixing bowl. It is best to have a bowl with steep sides as this will make the mixing easier later.
Rub 1 ounce of butter or 1 teaspoon of oil into the mixture.
Add in 4 ounces of oats or oat flakes, 4 ounces of wheatgerm and 12 ounces of coarse wholemeal flour (the oats and the wheatgerm are optional, so if you don’t have them just substitute the same weight in wholemeal flour i.e. with no oats or wheatgerm just add a total of 20 ounces of wholemeal flour).
Make a well in the middle of your mixture.
Pour the buttermilk into the well, a little at a time, mixing it evenly with a knife into the rest of the mixture. The resulting dough should be sticky to the touch but not wet (if it is not sticky add some more buttermilk, if it’s too wet then you’ve added too much…don’t panic).
Put some white flour onto a bread board and empty your dough onto it.
Now comes the really important part,
With a little flour on your hands, knead the dough for a minute or two (the longer you knead it, the more dense the finished product will be, so it’s really down to personal taste). The technique for kneading takes a little time to master but this youtube clip is the closest I could find to the way I was taught.
If you added too much buttermilk into the bowl at the mixing stage you can keep adding white flour to the board as you’re kneading so the dough will become a little more dry (you will get better at judging how much to use with experience). The finished bread will be less brown and more white if you keep adding more white flour but for your first attempt, just try to get the dough so it’s no longer sticking to the board.
When you’ve finished kneading the dough remove the dish from the oven (it should be piping hot) and lift the dough into it. It will make a very satisfying sizzling sound as it goes in. Press the dough so it fills the dish all the way to the edges. I usually sprinkle some sesame and pumpkin seeds on top at this stage (press them into the dough so that they won’t fall out when you upturn the dish to remove the bread at the end) and put across into the top of the bread with a knife so that it will rise a little better.
Place the dish back into the oven for 40 minutes (35 for fan-assisted ovens) with the lid on.
When the time is up, turn the dish upside down and the bread will fall out. If you’re not sure that it’s baked enough rap your knuckles on the base of the bread (as if you were knocking on a door) and it should make a hollow sound. If not, then it needs another five minutes or so.
Place it on a cooling rack until it has cooled down.
Enjoy with the mushroom and nut paté that was posted above.