Soda breads are a variety of quick bread and are appropriately named since “bread soda”, otherwise known as baking soda, is used as a raising agent rather than yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, bread soda, salt, and buttermilk. Although, you can get really creative here and include raisins, seeds, nuts, savory herbs, even oats. The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. * I have seen some recipes that replace the buttermilk with live yogurt or even stout. I wanted to go the traditional route and didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I made my own by simply adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or you can use lemon juice per one cup of milk.
You can form the bread loaf into the “traditional” round or flatten it and cook it on a griddle for the “griddle cake” form. Whichever shape your Irish Soda Bread takes it is important to resist the urge to over knead this dough. Only work it long enough to incorporate the ingredients. This brings me to the best thing about soda breads and is one of the reasons that they began to appear in the mid-19th century in Europe. Soda breads are easy and inexpensive to make and they are delicious! Of course the beginning of the 19th century was also when bicarbonate of soda first became available for use.
There are several stories about the significance of the cross made in the middle of the Irish Soda Bread loaf. Some say that it is the “sign of the cross” and wards off evil spirits. Others, that the cut in the top of this loaf assists the cooking process by allowing air circulation which in turn helps the loaf rise better. Most admit that the cut is an easy guideline for serving even slices. What I am certain of is that this bread won’t last long on the dinner table. It’s fabulous, particularly served warm slathered in butter.
The following recipe makes 2 loafs
7 cups unbleached, unbromated flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
3 cups buttermilk
Sift to combine the flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Making a well in the center, add the buttermilk and stir to form dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and gently knead just enough to incorporate the ingredients. Form into a log and divide in half to form 2 round loafs. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cut a 1″ deep cross into the top of each loaf and bake for 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Enjoy!