This is an ideal bread recipe for newcomers, no fancy equipment needed and the bare bones of a recipe. I tricked Mrs J into making this a few weeks ago; she who famously doesn’t cook but hovers helpfully around the washing up, trying not to get roped in with my wily ways. “Can I do anything?” she asked. “Yes darling, could you just pass me that bowl… pop 400g of flour in it for me… and 300ml milk, I’ll be over in a sec, would you just shake some lemon juice in and… here, a teaspoon of this. Scrape it into this tin… and just pop it in the oven for me?” By the time she realised what I was up to, stealthily coaxing her through the simplest of bread recipes, she was too proud of herself to be cross with my cunning linguistic charms.
It turned out beautifully – and is always the first thing I teach even the most reluctant pupil to cook. You have a natural, free breadmaker in your palms and your knuckles – and this easy recipe with no proving or rising time is a great place to start. A lot of soda bread recipes use wholemeal flour, salt and buttermilk or yoghurt – but true to my usual style, I’ve pared it back to the basics (although you can add a pinch of salt to the flour if you like). This is gorgeous served warm with red fruit jam or butter, or dunked into hearty soups and stews.
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Makes 1 small loaf that will serve 6
300ml milk, 18p (55p/1l long life UHT milk – you can use the usual stuff too)
1½ level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda, 4p (£1.20/200g)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Squeeze the lemon juice into the milk. Stand to one side for about 5 minutes to allow the liquid to curdle and separate.
Meanwhile, weigh the flour into a bowl, add the bicarbonate of soda and mix through.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in most of the milk-and-lemon mixture.
Mix well with a wooden spoon to form a sticky dough. Use your judgement – if it looks too dry, add the remaining liquid.
Tip the dough on to a floured work surface and pat into a round shape, kneading ever so lightly. The trick to amazingly light soda bread is not to fiddle with it too much. Pop the shaped dough into a 1lb loaf tin (approximately 17 x 7 x 6cm), score a line on top of the dough down the middle about 1cm deep with a sharp knife and dust with a little extra flour.
Place in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. Once baked through, the loaf should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped and feel ridiculously light. Remove the tin from the oven, tip out the soda bread whilst hot and leave to cool on a wire rack. Break into chunks and serve warm with butter, or allow to cool completely then wrap in cling film to keep fresh.
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