My irish grandmother used to to take fresh milk from her farm, churn it and turn it into butter. Then she would take the buttermilk that is produced as a side product and use it to make the most amazing irish soda bread. The bread was always soft and fluffy with a nice crunchy crust and perfect when spread with that freshly made butter. So my irish soda bread is based on my grandmothers traditional recipe, but I have modernised it with sweet red onions and herby sage.
Soda bread, particularly, wholemeal or brown soda bread,is a very traditional bread and still considered a staple in Ireland. Non yeast breads such as Irish soda bread have been made for many centuries and thankfully for us the leavening agents we use today, mainly baking soda or baking powder, have come along way since the early days when potash had to be laborously purified before being used as a leavening agent.
Making irish soda bread at home is still taken very seriously and recipes and tricks to make it are often passed down through the generations in irish families, such as ours.
Read on for an lovely modernised take on this wonderful traditional bread. My irish soda bread recipe uses spelt and is beautifully flavoured with red onions, sage and olive oil.
Before trying out this irish soda bread recipe its interesting to point out here that although soda breads are really easy to make there are 2 technicalities that need to be considered;
- the liquid component has to be just right
- The amount of baking soda or powder has to be matched to the type of soda bread and any extra add-ins that you are using.
Of course, being a scientist I feel its important to let you know why, if you dont care , just go and follow the recipe, I have tweeked and tested it and the ingredients and amounts given here work out perfectly.
Ok, so the first point. For a nice soft soda bread with a good well structured form the the flour needs to be correctly hydrated. Too wet and your loaf will be a splat rather that a nice rustic round, too dry and and the bread will be crumbly, unrisen and difficult to slice and spread.
Second point, with respect to the amont of leavening agent. The leavening by baking soda or powder is somewhat sensitive to extra added ingredients that may weigh down the dough too much, in such cases the amount needs to be slightly increased, but too much baking powder is not good either since you could have uneven raising of the bread.
The recipe I describe here for irish soda bread with sage and onion. The dough is made, like many traditional soda breads, with buttermilk, but I use spelt flour instead of wheat flour. This soda bread recipe is further modernised by adding fried chopped onions, dried sage and fresh sage leaves. The resulting loaf is amazingly soft inside with a great robust crust. Its full of the herby flavor of sage and savoury oniony taste. What makes this bread really great is that you can have it made, from start to finish in just 45 minutes, not including cooling time.
Ingredients for 1 large Irish soda bread
500ml buttermilk (or 250ml buttermilk 250ml water)
500g spelt flour
50g rolled oats
20g baking powder
2 red onions, finely chopped and fried in olive oil
2 teaspoons dried sage
4-5 fresh sage leaves (if available)
1. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C.
2. Finely chop the red onions and fry for about 5 minutes in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the dried sage and chopped up fresh sage leaves, and season. Just fry for a further minute or so, then turn out the mixture onto a plate and allow to cool while you prepare the dough.
3. Combine the spelt flour oats, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and then add the buttermilk and mix with your hands until everything has almost come together.
4. Just before the dough looks properly mixed, add the onion sage mixture and finish the mixing by incorporating these into the dough. the reason you should not fully combine the dough ingredients and then just knead in the onions and sage is that you do not want to over mix the dough as this can lead to a tough soda bread. So just until everything has come together is perfect.
5. Form the dough into a ball and place on a floured baking sheet. With a sharp knife cut a 1cm deep cross into the top of the loaf to allow for maximum expansion in the oven.
6. Bake at 250degrees for ~40 minutes or until hollow sounding when tapped.
7. cool on a wire rack, slice and spread with cold irish butter, Such a treat.