Wholesome soda bread

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread. It always makes my nose tingle and mouth water, but unfortunately my yeast intolerance rules most tempting loaves out. I do make a few different types of ‘bread’ myself which might be described as ‘interesting’, but the best one by far is soda bread.

I fell in love with soda bread over 20 years on a holiday in the Republic of Ireland. We went for a little road trip around the gorgeous countryside after attending a friends wedding. Sounds idyllic, but it was February and whilst the views were amazing, it was exceedingly cold. We also nearly got stranded in the snow when our very cheap hire car was no match to a sudden snow storm on a steep country hill. Fortunately, my husband saved the day and managed to get away before it all went horribly wrong! On our trip we stayed in small pubs and guest houses. Every one of them served freshly baked warm soda bread with lashings of butter and jam. It was so filling and comforting, it warmed us up ready for the freezing cold weather outside.

Soda bread is a super quick type of loaf, made with bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast. The bubbles from the bicarb gives the lift, and can be surprisingly light (but still hearty). The problem for any dairy-free diners is that it’s also traditionally made with buttermilk. Certainly any loaves I have found in the supermarket contain dairy. I made it for some time with just water, but it didn’t have the same fluffy texture inside, so was even heavier and more dense than normal. This of course was solved when I discovered how to make vegan buttermilk (as on a previous post) and now my loaves have just the right crumb.

One of the tricks with soda bread is to use just the right amount of baking soda. Too little, and it won’t rise and have texture, too much and it tastes a bit like wee! If you’ve had a pot in the cupboard for a few years, I would suggest buying a fresh one. You may be tempted to use more if it’s old, which may not give you a lift but will definitely give you the wee flavour!  The other trick to get a good crust on the outside and soft bread on the inside is to place a bowl of water in the bottom of the oven whilst it bakes. This produces steam that helps create the best type of loaf.

For this recipe, I’ve used half spelt flour, half wholemeal flour, but you can use all of one or the other. I like spelt as it has a lovely nutty flavour, and being a more ancient grain it’s potentially easier to digest than some of the modern flour strains. It does still contain gluten, so if you are gluten intolerant please avoid (even though I picked up a vegan baking book recently that classified it as gluten-free). I have to admit that I haven’t tried making soda bread with a gluten-free mix so cannot say if it works or not – that will have to be an experiment for another day.

I love making this fresh for breakfast (it takes less than 30 minutes all up) or have it for lunch to dip in some tasty soup. It may not be as glamorous as some types of bread, but for the yeast and dairy intolerant eaters, it’s a fabulous alternative.

Dairy-free soda bread
200g wholemeal flour + 200g spelt flour (or just 400g of one type)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
210ml dairy-free buttermilk (click here for recipe)

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour into a bowl with the bicarb and salt. Mix together well to make sure it’s all combined – you really don’t want to eat a mouthful of soda! Carefully pour in the buttermilk, mixing together with a spoon as you go. Once the mix starts to get stiff, use your fingers to bring it together, kneading lightly for a couple of minutes, but not too much. Form a ball with the mix, then transfer to the baking sheet, moulding it lightly into a round loaf. Gently cut a large cross into the top, but don’t cut through more than the top few centimetres.

Place the loaf in the oven, with a bowl of water on the shelf below to provide some steam. Bake for 20 minutes until it’s crusty on the outside. Remove from the oven and pick up the loaf with an oven glove or tea towel. Tap the bottom – it should be firm and sound slightly hollow. If you feel your loaf is not quite ready, return to the oven for a couple more minutes.

Once ready, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or cold. To store, wrap up in baking paper and keep in an air-tight tin for up to 3 days.

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