Loaf Affair

Irish soda bread served on rustic kitchenware and hand-dyed linen napkins


My first taste of soda bread was in West Cork, Ireland. I remember ordering a simple starter of smoked salmon on soda bread in a pub and was won over by its slightly sour tang, soft crumbly texture and firm crust. I swiftly bought a loaf and discovered that it toasts well for breakfast – it’s especially good with marmalade – and, with just a bit of butter, accompanies soup to perfection.

Having never really tried my hand at bread making, I followed this recipe to the letter – a rarity for me – and found great delight in the success of my efforts. Plonking a fresh, warm, home-baked loaf on the table next to a steaming pot of homemade soup is most gratifying! The most labour-intensive part of making this bread was in fact tracking down the buttermilk, as it’s not stocked everywhere. But you can make a substitute out of milk and lemon juice, or vinegar – you’ll find easy recipes for this online.

170g wholemeal flour
170g self-raising flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
290ml buttermilk

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.
  • Measure out your flours and place in a large bowl with the salt and bicarbonate of soda, and stir together.
  • Making a well in the centre, slowly pour in the buttermilk and quickly mix with a large fork, then use your hands as the mixture stiffens, until you have a soft dough. If the mixture feels a little dry and powdery add an extra splash of milk, making sure it doesn’t become too wet or sticky.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute, or until it feels blended.
  • Form your dough into a round, flattening the top slightly, before placing on a lightly floured baking tray.
  • Cut a large cross on the top with a sharp knife and bake for 20–30 minutes, or until the loaf looks bronzed and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

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