Breads are a tough job to do at home, actually nothing is as tough as the patience one has to keep when the dough takes its proving time which can be very long in few cases depending on what form of yeast is being used. But, hold on, there are breads around the world which can be done without yeast too and do not take long.
Irish Soda Bread can come to rescue when you are planning to bake a bread but do not have patience. This a bread that originally comes from Ireland, hence the name Irish Soda Bread. The Irish did not invent the bread actually, it was invented by American settlers in Europe as they wanted quick breads and started using potassium bi-carbonate as leavening agent in their breads. These breads became more popular during 19th century in Europe (specially Ireland) when baking soda/soda bi-carb was easily available in the market.
This recipe does not have any yeast involvement. Surprised? Yes, the leavening agent for this kind of bread is soda-bi-carbonate which reacts with buttermilk, this is what helps the dough to fluff up. This is the classic Irish version which I am sharing here today, there are other versions too like the American version where they add eggs and dry fruits in the dough. I shall share the American version too later.
Irish Soda bread is typically made using soft wheat, hence all purpose flour or cake and pastry flour works best for the recipe. Soft wheat can be grown in Ireland due to its climate, hence does not form gluten while kneading even without yeast. I used normal all purpose flour to make it. If you want, you can use cake and pastry flour as it has less gluten. I used readymade store bought buttermilk in the recipe, if it is hard to find, use equal amounts of water and curd to make buttermilk at home.
Now comes the vital information. Before kneading the dough, sift in the flour, baking soda, salt twice and mix the dry ingredients well. Then make a well in centre and pour in buttermilk little by little according to requirement. Once the dough comes together, thats it, the dough is done. Do not over knead the dough, this is the most essential step that has to be kept in mind. Also you will feel the dough is wet and sticky and you may feel that it needs to be kneaded, but no, the dough for this bread has to be like that. The bread will become hard if you over knead the dough.
Soda bread dough has to be shaped to a round disc around 8 inches by measurement and will be placed on a greased baking sheet/tray for baking. A cross has to be cut on the top of the bread before baking. The cross has to be deep enough atleast halfway down the dough. Earlier in ancient times, it was believed in Ireland that the cross on top of this bread let the devil out. But actually this was done to ensure proper baking and for convenience to cut the baked bread easily into four.
Irish soda bread tastes best when served hot and immediately. Even if you store it, do not store for more than two days because it tends to dry out. The bread is also more cakey rather than bread textured and I love it to the core.
Today in the 21st century tons of good quality bread varieties are available but tradition never dies. Irish Soda bread still remains an international favourite and an answer to a quick bread recipe. Ireland still has households where this bread is consumed over other available breads.
- Butter - for brushing
- All purpose flour/cake and pastry flour - 450 gm / 2 cups, plus extra for dusting (1 cup = 225 gms)
- Salt - 1 tsp
- Bicarbonate of soda/baking soda - 1 tsp
- Buttermilk - 400 ml / 1¾ cups
- Preheat the oven to 220 degree celsius.
- Lightly grease a baking sheet or tray with butter. Avoid using parchment paper.
- In a bowl, sift in flour, baking soda, salt and give a mix until everything combines well.
- Now make a well in centre of the dry ingredients and pour in most of the buttermilk.
- Knead it well using your hands. The dough should be very soft. It should be wet too but not excessively wet.
- If necessary, add the remaining buttermilk and bring the dough together.
- Dust flour on work surface and turn out the dough on the surface and knead lightly. Do not over knead, just until everything comes together.
- Shape the dough into 8 inch round circle.
- Now place the dough on greased baking sheet/tray and cut a cross on the top of the dough. The cut should be deep, halfway down atleast.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until firm and golden brown.
- To check the doneness, insert a skewer in the centre of bread, if it comes out clean, the bread is done.
- Transfer to wire rack to cool it down.
2. Avoid using baking soda that has been lying on your shelf for very long.
3. Do not over knead the dough, over kneading can give you a hard bread.