Soda bread, with Neven
Your cut-out-and-keep guide to the fundamentals of cooking
Overmixing is the worst thing you can do with soda bread. To keep it light, you must mix it quickly and not let it get too heavy. Too much mixing makes the bread toughen up. I like to get my hands into the dough, but you can use a spatula or a wooden spoon if you prefer. You want the dough wet, but not sloppy; you need to be able to handle it for a tiny bit of kneading. But not too much or you’ll toughen it up. A mix of white and brown flours make the best soda bread. You get roughage from the brown, and the white flour gives a bit of softness. If you haven’t any brown flour, use 50pc white flour and 50pc wheat bran. Buttermilk is key, because the acids in it cause the chemical reaction with the bicarbonate of soda that makes the bread rise. Sour milk will do the same thing. You can freeze sour milk and use it when you’re ready to bake. If you don’t have buttermilk or sour milk, use fresh milk mixed with the juice of a lemon, and leave it overnight before you start baking. I start the bread off in a very hot oven, to get a good crust, but then reduce the temperature, so it’s cooked inside. If your loaf is cooked on the crust but uncooked inside, put it back in the oven for 8-10 minutes. This recipe is a traditional soda bread, but in the restaurant, we vary it with dried cranberries and chopped rosemary. Or chopped sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. You can also try a couple of teaspoons of curry powder and some sultanas. This bread doesn’t keep; it’s for eating on the day you bake it. It can be frozen, though. To thaw it, wrap the loaf in tinfoil and put it in an oven preheated to 140°C, 285°F, Gas 2, for about 20 minutes. Makes one loaf.
You will need:
A little butter, for greasing 350g (12oz) plain flour, plus a little extra to flour the work surface 150g (5oz) coarse stoneground wholemeal flour 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons pinhead oatmeal 350ml (12fl oz) buttermilk (a little extra may be needed)
Preheat the oven to 230°C, 450°F, Gas 8. Lightly grease a baking tray or a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Sift the plain flour, the coarse stoneground wholemeal flour, the bicarbonate of soda and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Then add the pinhead oatmeal to the mix. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk. Mix gently and quickly until you have achieved a nice, soft dough. Add a little more buttermilk if necessary, until the dough binds together without being sloppy. Knead the dough very gently on a lightly floured work surface and then place the dough into your loaf tin or onto a baking tray. With a knife, cut a groove down the centre of the dough. Bake the bread for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 and bake the bread for another 20-25 minutes. When the bread is cooked, it should sound hollow when it is tapped on the bottom. If it doesn’t, return it to the oven for five minutes. Transfer the bread to a wire rack and allow it to cool for about 20 minutes.