Nothing impresses dinner guests quite like home baked bread. That smell as they walk in the door; salivating as it’s pulled out of the oven; the crack of that delicious crust as you slice it at the table. Whether dipped in olive oil and salt or simply lathered with thick butter, this simple of combination of flour, yeast and water is difficult to beat. If you can make it properly!
Yeast is a beast
Being able to bake bread is not a skill with which I was blessed. One of my first attempts resulted in “chive infused bread rolls” emerging from the oven the same size, weight and consistency as hockey balls. Miraculously my parents still have most of their original teeth despite each forcing one down. The flour-rocks were then able to weather several rainstorms on the bird feeder completely unscathed before we finally had to toss them into the bin. (The birds of today are terribly ungrateful…).
All through the years since then it’s been one disaster after the next, culminating in the great “Sourdough Tragedy of 2018”. Six days of creating sour-starters, kneading and proofing resulted in a solid mass which could have easily replaced the wheel on a wooden cart.
Of all stratagems, knowing when to quit may be the best – Chinese Proverb
I took the decision after the sourdough disaster that my efforts with yeast should remain in the realm of beer-making where I am at least mildly competent. Finally calling it quits with those infuriating little purple foil packets has not dampened my enthusiasm for baking bread though and my refusal to be beaten led to the discovery of Soda Bread. It’s delicious, quick, easy and will still make any guest (and if you’re anything like me, yourself) clap joyously and make high pitched squeals of delight.
It takes exactly 40 minutes to turn it from dry ingredients to something you can shove into your mouth. Much like my aunt’s cat, too much handling ends in tears (i.e. limited kneading is required). Once you’ve popped it in the oven, you can even use one of the ingredients to scrub the stove. It’s a win on many levels.
Soda Bread for the Yeast Challenged Baker
- 170g self-raising flour
- 170g plain flour (I’ve used both white and brown bread flour)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) (i.e. stove scrubber)
- 250ml buttermilk*
- 40ml milk*
*see note at the bottom of the recipe
If you want waves of applause from friends and family as they hail your obviously superior bread-making skills, adding a bit of grated cheese, chopped up onion or herbs to the dry mix before adding the buttermilk takes it to another level of amazingness.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
- Mix the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda (and cheese, onion or herbs) in a mixing bowl.
- Make a hole in the centre and add the buttermilk & milk.
- Mix with a spoon or spatula. The ingredients should come together into a softish ball which is neither too dry nor too sticky (add a bit of extra milk / flour as needed)
- Plonk the ball onto a lightly floured counter and knead a tiny bit. Basically you want to ensure that the ingredients are mixed in properly and it holds its ball-like shape. (If you knead too much your bread will come out heavy… So handle it like it’s a grumpy cat – as little as possible).
- Place it onto a lightly floured (so it doesn’t stick) baking tray.
- Traditional Soda Bread recipes call for a cross to be cut into the top before putting it in the oven. I don’t know what happens if you disobey this order – let me know if you try?
- Bake for around 30 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when you tap it.
- Let it cool a little on a wire rack before slicing. (You’ll tempted to break bits off of it as it comes out of the oven. Allowing it to cool will prevent burns on hands and tongues).
- Your guests worship you like you’re some sort of bread-making god. Don’t correct them. Revel in the glory of the parade they throw in your honour.
*The original recipe I found online called for 290ml of Buttermilk, but you can only buy Buttermilk in a 500ml, which means you end up with a random 210ml sitting in the fridge. Because I hate waste, I use 250ml buttermilk and top up to the prescribed 290ml of liquid with regular milk. This admission has probably caused professional chefs the world over to experience simultaneous heart attacks… But doing it this way means I can squeeze out 2 loaves of the bread out of 1 carton of buttermilk and it still seems to come out alright.