Irish Soda Bread is the popular brown bread in Irish country homes, although slices white bread now appears in waxed-paper wrappers in Dublin and other towns.
The whole-wheat flour is stone ground, and baking soda and sour milk are used to lighten it.
Every farmer’s wife had to make butter almost every day, for it was one of the main cash crops. There was always buttermilk from the churning, and it was the family drink and handy for the baking.
When baking soda mixed with sour milk or buttermilk, gas is formed and the heat of the oven makes the gas bubbles expand in a way similar to the action of the east.
Maggie Murphy’s pot oven bread
Down yonder in one of our big fields is a lovely mysterious ruin of an old house and grist mill – moss-covered stone walls,
Spray as a cricket, she bicycles the five miles into the village once a week and peddles back (uphill most of the way) with whole-wheat flour among her purchases.
She cooks over an open hearth fire and mixes her soda bread, but she has no oven – just a three-legged iron pot oven. She sets this right in the red-hot coals on her hearth, rubs it inside with a bit of fat pork, drops her cake of whole-wheat dough onto it, puts on the cover and then shovels some of the red coals onto the corner. Heat top and bottom she then has, and the bread bakes for an hour while show sits by the hearth, from time to time turning the handle on her wheel bellows – which makes a draft of air come up through the tiny hole under the coals, bringing them to life with a golden glow.
At just the right minute she brushes the hot coals off the cover, lowers the crane to catch the handle of the pot and swings it out away from the fire.
Out comes a perfectly baked, crusty loaf, fragrant and golden “and good enough for the likes of me,” says Maggie Murphy.
from Pepperidge Farm Cookbook 1963
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
Sometimes soda bread is made of all whole wheat and sometimes with part whole wheat and part white. Here, yogurt has been used in place of the buttermilk and rolled oats have been added for a bit more texture.
Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf.
- 2 1/4 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup wheat bran
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
Preheat an oven to 425°F. Place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, oats, bran, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the yogurt and stir to blend, forming a rough ball. The dough will start rising as soon as the baking soda comes in contact with the yogurt, so work quickly to form the dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds. The dough should feel soft to the touch. Dust a clean work surface with flour and set the ball of dough on it. Flatten slightly into a 7-inch dome and sprinkle with flour, spreading the flour lightly over the surface. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow X in the loaf from one side to the other. Transfer the loaf to the preheated baking sheet.
Bake until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. Any leftover bread can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
P.S. I got so hungry during the photo shoot, so after I made a big salad with soft boil egg and the Irish bread. My lunch was perfect!