While many soda breads are made with soft brown wholemeal flour, a white loaf is a sparkling and handsome addition to the tea table.
This sort of bread was once universal in Ireland, its especial attraction perhaps being that it was economical on fuel and capable of being cooked in an open hearth rather than demanding an elaborate baker’s oven and, like other traditional Irish breads, it did not use yeast but bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar as raising agents. The normal method of baking was in a covered pot in the embers of the fire. The cook would increase the all-round heat by heaping coals on the lid. My suggestion of a ‘bonnet’ in the oven recreates this arrangement.
If you prefer to make this bread with brown wholemeal flour - perhaps more authentic - it would be best to find a stoneground flour, ideally as fresh as possible from your nearest watermill or windmill, and to use the softest (weakest) flour they have available, as well as the coarsest grind. You may need more liquid in the recipe.
Buttermilk has become quite difficult to find. It is possible to substitute milk and water with some cream of tartar, or you can use plain live yoghurt.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.