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Righto, brown soda bread is a staple of Irish cooking. As well as being really gorgeous (especially with a thick coating of real Irish, salty butter and maybe a generous dollop of raspberry jam - might I recommend Follain, I love their low-sugar, intensely fruity jams); brown soda bread is also incredibly simple to make. In fact, it's another of those "moveable feast" type recipes; once you are familiar with the basic master recipe, you can tinker with it at will, adding seeds or various other ingredients.
This recipe is, fundamentally, my mother's, although slightly re-worked. The secret ingredient (pinhead oatmeal) is actually my father's addition, and it gives the bread a fabulous nutty texture - I urge you to try it, if you don't already!
This recipe makes one 1lb tin of bread, I used to do double and make two tins, but in these "carbs-are-evil" days, I don't eat so much bread during the week so I find one loaf is enough. However, you can easily double up. I wouldn't bother freezing it - I find that bread doesn't freeze all that well, it always has a slightly soggy texture. So I just make one loaf at a time and use it up. If I have a crowd coming, I make the two loaves and just leave the second one in the bread bin til the second day, it'll be fine.
My mother's method for making bread was to weigh out the random added extras onto the scales (so, the seeds, crushed weetabix, linseed, wheatgerm, pinhead oatmeal, bran and anything else she had going on) and then add the white flour to "make up a pound". I use half the amount, so I want a total of half a pound of ingredients on the scale. I add ¼lb of the pinhead oatmeal to the scales, then a spoon of whatever else I have (today it's a tablespoon of oat bran) and then add the plain flour til I get to the ½lb mark. I hope that makes sense! Apologies too that this recipe uses metric and imperial systems - my Mum taught me this in ounces, but I never did get to grips with fluid ounces, so I use millilitres for the liquid...
- ¼ lb (about 4oz) pin head oatmeal
- 1 tbsp oat bran (you can also add a spoon of wheatgerm, or linseed, or a crushed weetabix for texture, or a couple of ounces of pumpkin seeds at this stage)
- 4oz of plain flour (so you know have 8oz of dry ingredients on the scale)
- 8oz wholemeal flour
- 1 tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of caster sugar (optional)
- About 400ml of buttermilk
- Pumpkin or sesame seeds
- Grease a 1lb loaf tin
- Preheat the oven to 220C
- Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir together
- Add about 300ml of the buttermilk, stirring all the time. Then add the rest, as required; the amount of liquid that the flour will absorb depends on each milling of the flour, so it is hard to be 100% accurate. About 400ml should be enough, but you will learn to recognize this - it won't be ruined if you add too much or too little, it'll still be perfectly edible. I've included some photos below. A mixture that is too dry is what your Granny might have referred to as "too tight" and she'd tell you to add some more liquid to "loosen it"
- If you have some pumpkin or sesame seeds, scatter on top of the bread and pat in gently with the back of the spoon (I didn't have any this time, but usually I do)
- Pour / scrape the mixture into your prepared tin, making sure to press it down into the corners (don't compress it, though, just pat it in), and then make a slit with the spoon along the length of the bread - quite deep, but not all the way to the bottom of the tin (this allows the hot air to circulate throughout the bread and cook it evenly)
- Put it in the oven and turn it down to 210C, bake for 40 mins.
- Take the bread out of the tin and put it back in, upside down, for 10 more minutes, just to crisp up the bottom
- The bread should be ready - it should sound hollow when tapped. Remove to a wire rack to cool fully
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PS: An edit, a week later.... Making bread on Friday afternoon for the weekend, didn't I only go and forgot the breadsoda! (Lesson - multi tasking is not a good idea, and therefore chatting to your Dad on the phone about his travel plans and what ferry sails to France in March while baking is just a silly idea... ) Anyhow, I hadn't enough buttermilk for a second lot, and I remember that my Mum sometimes chucked in some cream or Greek yoghurt if there were some leftovers, so I topped it up some creme fraiche, a splash of milk and a good glug of cream..... It is easily the nicest bread I've ever made. Really crumbly, super delicious; so go ahead and improvise, it's worth it.