Irish Soda Bread

My friend Kara, who I used to work with at the Chopping Block, gave me the following recipe. She made it when we were assisting an early Sunday morning cooking class, and we had her make seconds because we liked it so much. I think I might have eaten almost a whole loaf by myself. It's simple, but fresh from the oven with a little butter—absolutely divine. The recipe comes from Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School, which Kara attended and speaks of quite fondly. I love the baking instructions, especially the bit about letting the fairies out!

 

White Soda Bread
Makes 1 large loaf

 

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

First preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, stir in a full circle to mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a rough about 2 inches deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes, and then turn down the oven to 400 degrees F for a further 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked. If in doubt, tap the bread bottom. It should sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack or on the windowsill in the time-honored way.

Fresh crusty bread makes my mouth water, but some people prefer a soft crust. Years ago a clean flour bag would have been wrapped around the hot bread to soften the crust. A tea towel will produce the same result.