Sunday, 10 April 2011

Soda Bread

Top of my list of middle class food fantasies - you know, along with the homegrown vegetables plucked from the back garden and organic meat delivered from friendly, happy farms - is the idea that we would make our own bread. Picture the sunlight streaming onto a rustic wood table while motes of flour dance in the air above a newly-baked loaf and the Hovis music swells in the background. What better way to avoid all the additives and preservatives of modern bakery practices and get back to an authentic, ancient process! How quaint and charming, and incredibly time-consuming!

Well, in practice, that never really happens, but this soda bread is a nice way to capture some of that golden glow. It's delicious and hearty and shockingly good served warm with cold butter, but it doesn't require any skill, resting, proving or time. Simply mix, bake and eat. You'll have to do some fancy shopping - buttermilk and wholemeal flour - but once you've got them, you're half way there and you can get them in all supermarkets anyway. Don't try to be healthy and cut down on the salt, bread really needs it to taste halfway decent and it's not that much anyway.

The original recipe came from Waitrose Food Illustrated (which I love with all my prematurely middle-aged heart) and contained horseradish and dill, which I think would be delicious with some smoked salmon. So far I've only ever made the bread plain to accompany quite strong-tasting soups, but I'm itching to try it with other herbs, spices and maybe even some cheese. The plain version is still pretty phenomenal though, and I've got to say it again, so incredibly easy. You can do the whole thing start to finish in 45 minutes, 35 if you're super-speedy. 

Like all soda breads, this is amazing fresh and goes stale pretty quickly, so I'd recommend reheating any leftovers the next day and giving up on them the day after that. Or just make a bigger or smaller loaf depending on how many people you're planning to feed around your sunlit farmhouse table.

Soda Bread
Serves 4

- 150g wholemeal flour
- 150g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 teaspoons soft brown sugar
- 25g porridge oats
- 1 x 284ml carton of buttermilk 

Preheat the oven to 200. Sift together your flours, salt, bicarbonate of soda and sugar. The mealy bits of the wholemeal will be left in the sieve so I tend to chuck them in anyway. Add the oats and buttermilk and stir together, then bring the dough together with your hands until it looks cohesive and there aren't too many straggly bits.

Dust a baking sheet with wholemeal flour and plonk your dough on top, shaping it into a round. Scatter a bit more wholemeal flour on top of that then cut a deep cross into it with a knife. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the underside sounds hollow when you tap it. Try to be patient for a few minutes, then give up and break into it anyway. 

This is gorgeous with soup, or would be great with a cheese board, a picnicky lunch or sliced and topped with a dip or smoked salmon. Or, you know, just scoff it with butter.

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