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Soda Bread Secrets and Recipe
I have made many Soda Breads and because it is so quick and easy to make it is just as easy to experiment with. It was the first loaf of bread I made when I decided I liked the idea of baking and I still make a loaf most weekends.
That first loaf was taken from perhaps the worst recipe on the internet and was not pleasant, so I was almost put off completely. Luckily though I knew something was wrong and eventually over time my experience led me to soda bread perfection.
If you've never tried it or made it at home, the chances are everything you need is in your cupboards and you could very well have a warm, homely treat in just 30 minutes time.
The History of Soda Bread
Most people think of Ireland when they think of Soda Bread, and they are right to in part. With the advent of artificial leavening agents such as baking soda in the 19th Century and due to the climate being poor for high protein wheat (but ideal for potato's and other root vegetables) it is no wonder that the Irish began producing Soda Bread en masse.
It was not just the Irish who took advantage of the new technology when it came to baking soda. The Scottish, the Eastern Europeans and the Australians all took up strong Soda Bread traditions that survive to this day. It provided many poor communities with an accessible new staple, that took no longer than 30 minutes to make from start to finish.
Basic Soda Bread Formula
Tips for Perfect Soda Bread
- When making the dough, work the mixture as gently as possible with your hands and only just enough to bring it together. We don't want to release any gluten by kneading unlike yeast breads.
- Remember if you are using wholemeal wheat flour, or rye flour then add 5% more liquid to your recipe as these soak up more liquid than white.
- Never use water. Traditionally buttermilk is used to make the dough (another cheap by product). There is no proving time and consequently no chance for the flavour of the wheat to develop and mature. Use buttermilk, yoghurt or beer (such as Guinness) to add in flavour and complexity.
- Another reason to use buttermilk or yoghurt is the acidity. The baking powder will react with this to create a lighter more aerated bread. If you do use something less acidic like milk or beer then be sure to add a tsp of 'Cream of Tartar' (available everywhere in the same section as baking powder) which provides ample acidity. (Many baking soda products already contain some Cream of Tartar).
- Use the highest heat your oven can go to for the first ten minutes of the bake then reduce the heat by 30%. This will kick start the reaction, but also form a thin crust quicker and retain moisture.
- Use Plain Flour, not Self Raising Flour so you can control the baking powder and acidity levels in your mixture, it is also less likely to contain anti-calc agents, which are as far as quality home baking goes unnecessary and full of inedible and unwholesome nasty things.
Matt's Breakfast Rye Soda Bread
This recipe creates a sweet, filling and wholesome bread which is perfect for breakfast. Pumpkin seeds especially taste great. Try it with Jam and Marmalade, I enjoy it most with a thin scraping of butter and nothing else.
- 500 Grams Rye Flour, plus a little extra to dust
- 300 Grams Buttermilk
- 10 Grams Salt
- 20 Grams Baking Soda
- 1 good handful Pumpkin Seeds
- 1 good handful Sunflour Seeds
- 25 grams Honey, Rye recipes require extra liquid, in this instance the honey constitutes an extra 5% liquid
- Preheat the oven now as high as it will go. Every time you bake make sure you measure out your ingredients first. You will soon be plunging your hands into a bowl of flour to make a wet and sticky dough, you don't want floury, doughy hands all over your cupboards. If you are cutting up the apples, add to a shallow bowl of cold water with the juice of 1 lemon to stop the flesh from browning. Dry thoroughly with paper towels before adding to the dough.
- Sieve the flour into a steep sided mixing bowl before adding the salt, baking soda and seeds. Mix them all together with your fingers and transfer all of your dry ingredients to your work surface.
- Mix the buttermilk and honey and stir very well until combined. Make a well in the centre of your flour. Pour in the buttermilk and honey mix and collapse the flour into the well slowly and gently. Your hands should still be dry if not a little floury so scatter your diced apple over the dough.
- Now fully bring the dough together, you should take your time, it will only take a few minutes. The good thing about Rye Flour is that it contains very little gluten so you can be a bit rougher with it.
- Shape the dough by scooping both hands underneath and creating a boule.
- Lay the shaped dough gently on an oiled (or silicone based) baking tray and flatten gently with the palm of your hand. Now cut a large deep cross into the dough and leave to stand for 5 minutes further.
- Put the dough in the oven and leave on the highest setting for 10 minutes. After the initial 10 minutes take out the dough and rotate to achieve a uniform finish, return to the oven quickly. My oven goes to 230 degrees so I then reduce the heat to 175 degrees. Very few ovens go higher than this, if yours does reduce to 160 degrees. If you oven only goes to 200 degrees do not reduce for the rest of the baking time. Once reduced bake for a further 20 minutes.
- Once the cooking time is up take the bread out of the oven and using an oven glove on one hand tilt the bread up on it's side and tap the underneath with your index finger. if it sounds hollow it is done, if in doubt put back into the oven for a further 5 minutes.
A heavenly sweet, savoury and bread-like scent should have been giving you a great deal of pleasure from about 15 minutes into the bake.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Slice and enjoy warm with butter, and if you fancy it some jam!