As with all the best bread recipes, this traditional bread is simplicity itself. The ingredients in a traditional Irish soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The brown soda bread is an every day staple, served with soup and other meals or alone but nearly always with lashings of butter. The white soda is the more refined version and often contains a handful of raisins.
It's true that soda bread dries out quickly after slicing, but it makes fantastic toast the next day. An Irish soda bread base can make great flavoured breads, with cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion or garlic, although strictly speaking it ceases to become an Irish soda bread when any of these things are added. I always think it is best eaten freshly-baked and warm or toasted, slathered liberally with butter and smothered in good jam.
400g plain flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
2 handfuls of raisins
1. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas 8.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml in the measuring jug), at this stage add in the raisins if using. Using one hand with your fingers splayed (or two knives), bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky, but with the minimum amount of handling.
3. When the dough comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm deep and cut a deep cross in the top.
4. Place the dough onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/gas 6 and bake for a further 30. When ready, the loaf will be browned and will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base.
5. Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel for a slightly softer crust.