Irish soda bread uses baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to rise, rather than yeast. It’s actually very like American breakfast biscuits. The really important thing to consider when making bread with baking soda is that the chemical reaction that causes the bread to rise begins as soon as the buttermilk hits the baking soda. You want the bread to go in the oven while that reaction is still active. So once you add the buttermilk, you want to move very quickly, and treat the dough gently so as to not disturb the CO2 bubbles that are forming.
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 8-10 fluid ounces buttermilk
- Sift the dry ingredients together at least once or twice to make sure the baking soda is evenly distributed.
- Put the sifted dry ingredients in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
- Pour about three-quarters of the buttermilk in, and start stirring.
- You are trying to achieve a dough that is flakey and very soft. Add more liquid sparingly if you think you need it.
- Blend quickly until the whole mass of dough has become this flakey consistency.
- Turn the contents of the bowl out immediately onto a lightly floured board or work surface, and start to knead with floured hands.
- Don’t overknead! 15-30 seconds should be enough.
- Flatten the lump of dough to a slightly domed circular loaf about 6-8 inches in diameter, and put it on a lightly floured baking sheet.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut a cross right across the circle. The cuts should go about halfway down through the sides of the circle of dough, so that the loaf will “flower” properly.
- Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven. Handle it lightly and don’t jar it.
- Let the bread alone, and don’t peek at it! It should bake for 45 minutes at 400-450° F.
- At the end of 45 minutes, pick up the loaf and tap the bottom. A hollow-ish sound means it’s done.
- For a very crunchy crust, put on a rack to cool. For a softer crust, as above, wrap the loaf in a clean dishcloth as soon as it comes out of the oven.
This bread is a great addition to our St. Patrick’s Day feast along with Beef Stew and Colcannon.