Kids’ Holiday Workshop – Chaffey Community Centre January 2019
One of my favourite cookery authors and inspirations has always been Elizabeth David, who once wrote that: “everyone who cooks, in however limited a way, should know how to make a loaf of soda bread” and I couldn’t agree more with this. The skill of being able to make bread means that you are always able to have good sustenance. I’m sure there is a reason for that quote: “Bread is the staff of life”.
- Bicarbonate soda
- Buttermilk / soured milk
You don’t need any particular gadget either. In the olden days it was made on open hearth either on a griddle or a cast iron pot which was placed in the fire. The Irish call this pot a Sebasticle, which is actually is a very similar relative to the Australian Damper/Camper Oven Pot.
Although soda bread often is defined as Irish and many believe that it originates from Ireland, this isn’t strictly true. Similar quick breads, for example, were being made around the same time also in Britain, Austria, Poland.
Did you know…
Soda bread isn’t that old either, its leavening agent was only put into general use less than 200 years ago. It became popular in Ireland because apart from being a “quick way” of making bread, it was also “cheap”. Bicarbonate soda can sit in your pantry cupboard without fear of going off (unlike fresh yeast which has a definite use-by date).
Some Curious Trivia
- Earliest preparation of Damper breads in Australia were first recorded in 1827
- Soda bread in Ireland became very popular in the 1840s
- More fascinating: indigenous Americans were making similar sort of bread back in the Eighteenth Century (before all the above!) by using pearl ash – a kind of forerunner to bicarbonate soda – with corn meal
- Corn bread is indeed a form of soda bread!
- Different parts of Ireland have their own variations on soda bread shapes:
- In the North they make them into discs, which are then divided into triangles and cooked on a griddle
- In the South they shape them into a round loaf with a deep cross
- Soda bread technique is very similar to how you make scones, not too much kneading!
So how is soda bread such a quick way of making bread?
It’s all to do with the chemical called bicarbonate soda (an alkali leavening agent), otherwise known as baking soda. It is. When an alkaline and an acidic component, such as butter milk or yoghurt get combined with soda that has been mixed into flour, a kind of chemical eruption takes place. Lots of gassy carbon dioxide bubbles are released. It kicks the dough into action and makes it rise when it hits the heat. For this reason, it is very important to have your oven hot on the ready, so that you can take advantage of this reaction before it passes.
Importance of having the right balance
Getting your soda and flour proportions is VERY IMPORTANT. As a rule of thumb, less than 1% soda in proportion to your total flour content is all that is required. Any more than that, you are liable to have an unpleasant chemical taste in your bread. As soon as the dry ingredients are mixed with the liquid ingredients, there is a chemical reaction taking place, so speed is key!
Type of flour
Moist and crumbly, rather than light and airy, is the name of the game. From this point of view, strong bread flour isn’t really necessary as the texture we are after is more crumbly as opposed to airy like in sourdough bread. So plain flour is the usual type of flour to use. Soda bread in general is more like a scone, meaning that if you over knead it, it will become tough and rubbery. This is not to say that there are not people who prefer a denser and heavier mix. Everything is a matter of taste which is totally subjective.
Free form or tin?
Traditionally soda breads have been made free form with the deep crosses. Tins can be used too. There are no hard and fast rules, do what suits you best.
How to keep your soda bread moist
Soda bread has a cake like crumb. It will also dry and go stale faster, than say sourdough bread – it does make great toast though! It is one of the reasons why soda bread was often made every other day and consumed as quickly as it was made.
One way of keeping your soda bread moist is to bake it in a cloche or dutch type of oven, like the traditional Sebasticle used by the Irish, or Damper /Camper oven we use in Australia as I mentioned earlier.
A decadent way of keeping moisture is by slathering the baked bread with lots of melted butter when just out of the oven.
Placing a damp tea towel over the bread after it has been baked is another option.
Another option for a cloche type of method is to bake the bread inside a Pyrex dish with a lid to retain steam and encourage moisture retainment.
Some Soda Bread Variations
Soda bread is open to all kinds of variations (the sky’s the limit!), it is incredibly versatile, specially as it only takes minutes to assemble and roughly half an hour plus to bake.
Here are some popular versions:
Spotted Dog, also known as a Railway Cake – same as a plain soda bread, except it has sweet ingredients added to it. It usually contains a little sugar, sultanas and an egg.
Stripy Cat – also sweet, but the currants or sultanas get replaced by roughly chopped up chocolate.
Savoury wise you can add olives; sun dried tomatoes; caramelized onions; even chilis – whatever tickles your fancy!
Brown soda bread is made by replacing some if not all of the plain flour with wholemeal flour.
To make your soda bread/scone cheesy, you can baste them with egg wash and dip or sprinkle it with grated cheese of your choice.
Last but not least, you can also make a Vegan soda bread by simply replacing your dairy component with say oat, soya or rice milk which can be soured with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. The flour mix is open to your own choice and you definitely omit any egg wash.
How not to get Jinxed by the Fairies!
According to popular legend, the reason a cross is made on the soda bread is to ward of evil spirits and bless the bread. In Ireland they go a step further, they prick holes on the sides of the bread to allow the fairies, that helped make the bread, to escape. If you don’t give them an escape route they will definitely jinx the bread. Without an escape route, they will huff and puff and deform your bread. So you are best advised to never ever make the fairies angry :)))))
So why not join me for some quick bread fun if you are in the area and discover how to make Irish Soda Bread, get your very own recipe and take the bread you make home!
KIDS’ SODA BREAD WORKSHOP
BAKING AS EASY AS 1-2-3
Chaffey Community Centre
86 Nineteenth Street, Renmark SA 5341
DATE: Wednesday January 16th, 2019
TIME: 10am to 12pm COST: $5.50/CHILD – adult supervision required
ALL MATERIALS SUPPLIED
Opportunity to discover how to make Irish soda bread and how not to get jinxed by the fairies! No special gadgets required just yourself!
Tea & coffee provided
BOOK YOUR TICKET HERE: Baking Bread as Easy as 1-2-3