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The secret to the perfect soda bread

Tasting

SODA SO GOOD Quick and easy to make, the key to brown soda bread is the ingredients.

Food

Paula Stakelum

I haven’t always been able to make the perfect pastry, bread or biscuit. I’ll always remember when I was about seven, trying to make shortbread from a newspaper article. It started with flour everywhere and ended with black instead of white shortbread. On the upside, I learned how to set the oven temperature that day!
It has taken time, lots of mistakes and experiments that lead to beautiful discoveries. Traditionally, people would keep their recipes and secrets close to them. I believe we should share, learn and grow as a food nation together. And to prove it, here’s my recipe for the  perfect brown soda bread.
Traditionally Irish soda bread was made with four ingredients: flour, bread soda, sour milk and salt. I’ve added a few more ingredients to my recipe.
I always say, ‘Start with the best ingredients and you’ll end up with the best bread’, try to use organic wholemeal flour and a good creamy butter – this is key. I like when the crust is dark brown on the outside and the centre is almost as dark. You will achieve this when the honey in the recipe caramelises during cooking, resulting in a sweet yet nutty flavour.

Brown soda bread

(1kg loaf)

What you need

  • 460g wholemeal organic flour
  • 60g salted butter
  • 75g honey
  • 3 tsp bread soda
  • 1½ tsp cream of tartare
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 375g buttermilk
  • 1 medium whole egg

What you do
Pre heat your oven to 170°C. Leave your butter out overnight; it’s perfect at room temperature. Place the flour in a bowl and sieve in the bread soda, cream of tartare and salt. Add the butter and honey and begin to mix with a wooden spoon or spatula. Slowly add the egg and buttermilk whilst mixing to a smooth dough. The dough will be very wet. This is normal.
Prepare your baking tin by brushing with melted butter and dusting with flour. Place all your bread dough into the tin, ensuring it is all level with your spoon. Place in the oven for one hour at 170°C.
It’s good to know that depending on the time of year and weather, your recipe may change slightly. In the summer, when the cows are eating beautiful fresh grass, the buttermilk is creamy, as is the butter. However, during winter, when they may be eating hay and silage, the milk and butter will change, and you will notice your dough may need a little more buttermilk. Over time you will know if you need to add more. I always develop recipes in summer when our dairy in Ireland is at its best. Enjoy your bread, but don’t forget to share it!

Paula Stakelum is Executive Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle.

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