Soda bread is Ireland's staple made with two of the world's oldest and most common ingredients, wheat and buttermilk. While I generally dislike bread-making, mainly due to my impatience, I love this recipe as it is adaptable and you can have warm, fresh bread on the table in 45 minutes.
If you don't have or can't find buttermilk, don't worry, it is easy to make at home. Pour full-fat milk into a bowl (380ml for the recipe below, but this method works for as little as half a cup), grab two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice or vinegar, add it to the milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. The milk will curdle as the acid reacts with it and hey presto, you have buttermilk.
• 400g plain white flour
• 50g wheat germ*
• 50g quick oats*
* Both are optional. They add a lovely texture to the bread, but if you don't have either one, just substitute the same amount in plain flour instead
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• About 380ml buttermilk
Heat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Put the flour, wheat germ, oats, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a big mixing bowl and mix with a spoon. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix and add half your buttermilk.
Using a round-bladed knife, fold the flour into the buttermilk. Continue adding the buttermilk little by little until all the flour has been soaked up. You may not need to use all of the buttermilk, it depends on the mix.
Put the wet dough on to a lightly floured surface and roughly shape it into a ball. The key at this stage is to work as fast as you can as the buttermilk has already started to react with the bicarbonate and the more you work the dough, the denser the load will be.
Put the dough on the prepared tray, cut the loaf into quarters, using a sharp knife to cut deep but not all the way to the bottom of the loaf and then dust the top with flour.
Pop it into the oven for 30/35 minutes until the loaf is golden and crispy on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack if you have one. This bread is best eaten on the day (ideally straight away with lashings of salty butter) or is yummy toasted the next day.
Once you are confident with the basic mix, you can add flavours to the soda bread. For Christmas I usually add some raw onion and freshly chopped sage, or for something a little more indulgent you can add fried pancetta (cooled with the fat drained), caramelised red onion and some goats cheese.