Soda bread was one of the first things I remember watching my mother make/bake in the kitchen. From my seat on the kitchen drainer I would watch how she’d mix and shape the dough into the thick, dense cakes and I’d hanker for a warm slice, the melted butter dripping down my greedy knuckles. Beats crumpets any day! With the minimum of ingredients it was her “go to” recipe when cupboards were getting bare- maximum flavour from minimum input. So often was it made in my childhood house that there was no need for her to weigh or measure quantities. It was an instinctual process, hands tracing what seemed like arcane patterns and motions, guided by numerous loaves that came before.
The lack of yeast in the mix makes it a particularly quick and easy loaf to knock together. No kneading is required and the mixing is minimal (to avoid an overly heavy dough). So it really is just a case of mix, shape and bake.
Whilst I have kept to the basic recipe as taught to me (flour, bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), buttermilk and salt, I have as usual added my Mr. Mom’s twist. The additional of the caramelised walnuts and blue cheese add wonderful pockets of sweetness and Unmami to the earthy wholemeal dough. I serve mine here with Guinness infused butter to make it just that little bit more indulgent for a St. Patrick’s Day treat.
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibhe!
100g walnut halves
55g caster sugar
15g unsalted butter
450g wholemeal flour
175g plain flour
2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoons salt
450ml buttermilk (450ml milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice stirred in)
100 g Cashel Blue cheese, plus extra for topping
Caramelised walnuts (see above)
1 quantity of homemade butter (See the recipe here)
150ml Guinness Stout (not draught)
4 teaspoons Irish heather honey (If you can’t find this, ordinary honey will be fine)
Pinch of salt
You’ll need 2 non-stick baking trays (or standard ones lined with baking parchment)
To make the caramelised walnuts
- Set aside a non-stick baking tray. If you don’t have non-stick variety to hand, just line a standard tray with baking parchment.
- Combine all the ingredients in a pan over a medium heat.
- Stir to combine and to stop the mixture from catching.
- Continue until the butter and sugar have melted. At this point you need to stir continuously until the syrup turns a deep shade of amber.
- Immediately remove from the heat and tip the mixture onto the (lined) baking sheet. Using two forks separate the nuts individually so that they don’t clump together.
- Allow the nuts to cool on the baking tray before use. (As a side note these make wonderfully tasty drinks snacks as they are like this. I often make a double batch!)
To make the soda bread
- Preheat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
- In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients (including the candied walnuts and cheese) and mix well.
- Make a well in the center, and add in roughly 1/3 of the milk. Mix lightly.
- Add in the second 1/3 of the milk and again mix until just combined.
- Add in the final amount of milk and mix until a dough is formed and there is no dry flour remaining in the bowl.
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead.
- Form into a round about 1 1/2 inch thick transfer to your baking sheet.
- Stud the top of the loaf with a few chunks of blue cheese (to taste) and dust with flour. Score the top of the loaf in half with a floured, sharp knife. Turn the loaf 90 degrees and score again so that you have a cross shape dividing the top of the loaf into quarters, then prick each of the four quarters**
- Bake the loaf in your preheated oven for about 45mins. Test by tapping the bottom of the loaf- it should sound hallow. (If the top of the loaf starts to brown too quickly, loosely drap some foil over it). Once baked remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.
- Serve with Guinness Butter (see recipe below) or for a traditional Irish after-school treat slathered in butter and jam!
To make the Guinness Butter
- Heat the Guinness in a pan over a high heat and reduce down to 1/3 volume. You should have a denser syrup. Remove from heat and allow to cool fully.
- Place the butter in a bowl of stand mixer, add in the cooled Guinness syrup, honey and salt.
- Beat on medium until combined then increase the speed to high and “whip” for about 5-7 minutes until all the ingredients are fully combined and mixture is fluffy in texture.
- Remove the butter from the mixing bowl, transfer to a dish and serve alongside the prepared soda bread.
**Although these two actions have a practical use in the making of this bread, the traditional meaning lends a much more romantic slant to them as only the Irish can. Cutting the loaf into quarters is said to be “Blessing the bread” so that it the house making it may never run out of it. Pricking each of the quarters is “to let the Sidhe (fairies) escape” in order to avoid any havoc they make reek if kept trapped in the bread. Quite how they got in there in the first place is beyond me by who am I to argue with centuries of tradition!