Since I’m moving to Galway and I’m over here now looking for an apartment, it seemed appropriate to feature a bread from Ireland. From what I read when doing my history homework for this post, traditional Irish soda bread became a staple of the Irish table as a result of –you guessed it– the potato famine of the mid 1800s. Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) was used as a leavening agent as early as the late 1700’s in the Americas and became readily available in Ireland by the 1830’s.
For this to be considered a bread, it must only contain FOUR ingredients: flour, salt, soda and buttermilk. Any other additions turn the bread into a ‘tea cake.’ Many modern recipes add not only a bit of sugar but a handful of currants or raisins. Since I’m not one for ‘bits’ in my bread, I use a recipe that adds just a little sugar but nothing else. Here’s my take on Aran soide.
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups buttermilk (or milked soured with 2 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar)
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 Tbsp sugar (making it a tea cake…)
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- If you do not have buttermilk and you will need to sour milk, add two tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice to just under two cups of milk and allow to sit for five minutes, while you prepare the dry ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.
- Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk/soured milk.
- Mix to create a sticky dough.
- When the dough has formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead lightly by hand – about three or four times.
- Form a large ball and cut into two halves if you prefer smaller loaves.
- Shape the loaves into round balls, slightly flattening the tops.
- With a sharp knife, slash an ‘X’ into the top of your loaves.
- Place loaf or loaves on parchment lined baking sheet, or place large loaf in an oiled cast-iron pot or skillet.
- Brush with buttermilk (and melted butter if you prefer.)
- For a more traditional baking method, cover your cast iron pot with a lid for the first 30 minutes and then remove for the last 15 minutes of baking time. Total bake time for large loaf is 45 minutes. If you are making two smaller loaves, bake for about 35 minutes.
- Bread is ready when the center X looks baked through and a toothpick comes out clean. As well, you can tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow.
- Cover with a tea towel, moistened with sprinkles of water, and allow to cool for at least ten minutes before breaking into your loaves.
- Serve warm with salted butter and honey.