a few years back we spent a week in ireland, and let me just say, we ate a lot of soda bread. toasted with rich butter and fruity jam at breakfast, sliced thick with wedges of local cheese for lunch. we really felt like locals, because, you see, people in ireland eat soda bread - and not just on st. patrick's day.
one of the main reasons why it is so common, is because it's made from basic ingredients that every household has on hand: flour, baking soda, sour milk (aka buttermilk) and salt. nothing fancy, and that's the point. soda bread was, and still is, easy, quick & inexpensive to make.
the magic of soda bread is how it gets it's rise, and the secret is right there in the name: baking soda. remember that science fair volcano you made -or saw other kids make - as a kid? well, the reason you'd get that dramatic "lava" explosion is from the chemical reaction between acid (vinegar, in that case) reacting with baking soda. soda bread works exactly the same way - the acid (buttermilk, in this case) reacts with the baking soda to form lots and lots of tiny bubbles, causing the loaf to rise. and the best part? that rise works all by itself! no yeast is involved and no yeast = no rise time. result? a risen bread that is made, start to finish, in under an hour. don't you just love kitchen science?
science aside, how about a fun morsel of history? you might have noticed that every loaf of soda bread has a deep cross slashed across the top. turns out that cross isn't just for decoration, but was originally intended to protect the household and ward off the devil. who knew, right?
when i was growing up, my mom would - and still does - make soda bread on st. patrick's day. the base recipe uses the classic ingredients, but also contains a scant two tbsp of butter and sugar, resulting in a loaf that is a bit rich, with a hint of sweetness. if you google 'soda bread', you'll find that the majority of the recipes that pop up will include butter and sugar, and sometimes eggs as well.
when i started making soda bread i used the traditional recipe (no butter, no sugar, nothin' but the basics ingredients),and it was always tasty. but my mom's recipe was really, really tasty, and so i adapted mine a bit. a bit of evolution never hurts, right? the result is a tender, dense loaf, with just a hint of richness - still perfect on it's own, slathered with butter and jam, or paired with cheese.
this soda bread might be a wee departure from the classic, but anyway you slice it, it is just as easy, just as quick, and definitely just as delicious.
recipe: irish soda bread
yields: 1 loaf
- 2 1/2 c all purpose flour - a combination of 1 1/2c white & 1 c whole wheat pastry flour will work but will yield a much denser loaf - plus extra for kneading
- 1/2 c buttermilk
- 3/4 c greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 generous tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- butter & jam, for serving
- preheat the oven to 375 and lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet
- combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and soda in a large bowl
- combine the yogurt and buttermilk & add to the flour mixture
- stir the mixture until it begins to form a rough dough - it will look ragged and dry but not to worry, it will come together!
- lightly flour a board (or the counter) and turn out the dough
- dust the dough lightly with flour and knead until it has formed a smooth ball - about 2 minutes
- transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and slice a cross in the top
- bake for 30 - 40 minutes, checking after 30, then again at 5 minute intervals.
- the loaf is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom
- remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack
- slice, slather with butter and enjoy!
note: to make your own buttermilk, simply combine 1 c milk - any kind will work, we use almond) with 1 Tbso white vinegar. let sit for 5 minutes, until the milk looks curdled. use as directed in the recipe!
s & h