Saturday, 9 March 2013

Soda Bread

I love Soda Bread. Those Irish certainly know a thing or two. It has to be the tastiest, easiest bread to make. Ever.

My Homemade Soda Bread
I'd never tried soda bread until I met my husband, in fact if I'm being totally honest I'm not sure I'd even heard of it! But he liked it so on one of my weekly jaunts to the supermarket, I bought some. It was OK I guess, but I couldn't really see what he was making such a fuss about. He did say shop bought wasn't quite the same as the real thing, but I didn't think much more about it. I enjoyed baking, but back then I was far too busy with work to do very much of it.

Fast forward a few years..................................

We had just relocated to Cornwall and had nothing. And when I say nothing, I really do mean virtually NOTHING. We had sold just about everything we owned to raise money and much of what we hadn't sold had not survived 'storage' with a family member (long story). We had a few bits of furniture (think bedside tables, drinks cabinet...nothing really useful) and a few personal items (clothes, photo's etc) and that was about it. There we were in a cold, damp, empty flat, starting again from scratch, from teaspoons up.
For those first few weeks I cooked on a two ring camping stove. We had no fridge, no freezer, which meant having to buy food in small quantities instead of in bigger, more economical amounts. It was expensive and severely limiting...not to mention the cost of replacing the silly little impractical gas canisters. It was the kind of stove meant for a weekend away, not long term use. In desperation we bought a second hand microwave from the Heart Foundation shop for £15. It wasn't ideal but better than nothing and we certainly got our money's worth...we got three years service out of my trusty, battered friend before it finally gave up the ghost.
I got books from the library on microwave cooking but for the most part I found them frustrating. So many of the recipes only used the microwave for part of the cooking; what kind of microwave cookbook requires you to also have a conventional oven? A pretty useless one in my opinion! It took quite a bit of digging to find recipes I could actually make use of...and one of them was for Soda Bread.
I have to say it was a rather pasty looking, and slightly soggy, Soda Bread, and would certainly have benefited from being browned off under the grill, but it tasted good and I'd made it from scratch, which after microwave meals, was a blessed relief.
It was another couple of months before I finally got an oven and I gratefully retired my microwave standbys in favour of some serious baking, but recently, as we tighten our belts ever further and cut the food shopping to almost impossible levels, I've had to again rethink the way I do things.
More and more I'm making my own bread, experimenting with different recipes and methods, but the one we keep coming back to, the quick fix, the saviour when I can't afford to keep the kitchen warm enough for an ordinary loaf to rise, is Soda Bread.
I've tried a few different recipes, looking expectantly for hubby's approval. Each, he said, was nice but not quite how he remembered from the time he spent in Ireland. In the end I took a bit from here, a bit from there, adapted to suit what I had in my cupboards, and came up with the recipe I use today which hubby insists is just 'perfect'.
6oz SR Flour
6oz Strong White Flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
184 ml (approx) buttermilk* (depending on the brand, the size of pot varies a little bit)
splash of milk
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Stir in buttermilk.
Add a splash of milk (if needed) until dough is of a soft, but not sticky, consistency.
Shape dough into a round and place on a floured baking tray.
Cut a deep 'cross' in the top of the dough.
Cook on gas mark 6 (ish- my oven is a bit temperamental) for about 20-25 mins until golden.
*Nowhere locally sells buttermilk and as it's almost a 20 mile round trip up to Morrison's I've had to find alternatives if I've run out. I add about a tablespoon of vinegar to about 200ml of milk then let it rest for about ten minutes and that usually does the trick. It doesn't tend to rise quite as well, making it a slightly denser loaf but it still tastes fine. I'm told you can do the same by adding lemon juice but I haven't tried that.
**Not for the squeamish. Adding vinegar to milk isn't pretty!

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