Irish Soda Bread or Quick Bread

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”.

Soda bread is simplicity in itself and easy as 1-2-3-4! Which is why we are making some at the Chaffey Community Centre this week because to make it you need only 4 ingredients:

  1. Flour
  2. Bicarbonate soda
  3. Buttermilk / soured milk
  4. Salt

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!

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
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


“No Need to Knead” Workshops with Tia

Join me these coming months for one of my “No Need to Knead” workshops at the Chaffey Community Centre – to book just click HERE

Lets get together to do some Mindful Baking


Ever heard of Runeberg Torte?

Who was Johan Ludvig Runeberg and what is Runeberg Torte?

The 5th of January is a national flag day in Finland which celebrates Runeberg’s Birthday. Why am I writing about this? Well there is something yummy that is made available for this celebration that involves baking. Bakeries and patisseries around Finland, roughly not long after New Year start to produce and sell Runeberg Torte, the sales of which culminate on the 5th of February, after which they disappear again until the following year.

I thought it would be fun to delve into the history of the torte and to Who was Johan Ludvig Runeberg? Current younger generations of Finns are perfectly aware of Runeberg Torte and that they are in season from the beginning of the new year until the 5th of February but often not much more…..

This is what I discovered Continue reading Ever heard of Runeberg Torte?

Eek! What do I do with over proofed dough?

If truth be told, I think this has happened to most of us at some point in time. I will happily admit that this happens to me every so often and usually it is connected to that syndrome we call multi-tasking. I get ambitious and try to do too many things at the same time and as a consequence something will cop it in the process. Heck, I’ve found doughs in the fridge the next day I’ve totally forgotten about and proving baskets on shelves where I’ve left dough to prove. The basket might have gotten hidden behind something else as I’ve shifted stuff, so there you go, out of sight, out of mind…

Nobody wants to waste dough, as it costs dough to make it (pun intended) – well there is a way to salvage the situation. I’m not talking about re-shaping and proving the dough again, which can be done in some cases. However, when the proof has stretched itself just that tad too long, the dough becomes lost old dough. The good news is that not everything may have been lost because the lost dough has become “old dough”, or what the French baking term refers to as Pâte Fermentée.

So what is Pâte Fermentée?

Pâte Fermentée basically is a piece of “old dough”. This is a baking practice whereby old dough is kept back in order to start the next batch of bread dough. The old dough is packed with flavour because it has already gone through the fermentation process. What you need to be clear about here is the fact that Pâte Fermentée is not like a sourdough starter which can be fed and kept into perpetuity if one so desires. One particular difference between sourdough starter and “old dough” is that the latter contains salt. All other preferments don’t contain any salt as a norm. It will keep roughly for 48 hours after which it will begin to loose its punch. Even if it is under 48 hours it may not contain enough leavening power to raise a new dough all on its own. It helps to add a speck of instant yeast into your new flour mix. For me, when I use old dough, the main purpose is to take advantage of the flavours that have already been established into it. Call it a form of condiment agent if you like and with the help of a little extra yeast you are on the road of making more bread relatively faster than you would be with sourdough. If you don’t intend to use the old dough straight away you are better off putting it in the fridge, the caveat being that you only have a window of two days to use it up.

The way you use old dough in your bread formula is slightly different to how you usually combine the ingredients to make a bread dough. Before you put any old dough into the dough mix, you need to mix all the other dough ingredients first, and only after that do you start chucking old dough chunks into the mix. If the mix appears too dry, you can always adjust the hydration by adding water into the mix. I always tell my workshop bread pals to keep back some of the hydration (usually water) as you can always add water into the mix, whereas taking water back from a sticky mix… well you figure. It’s all part of the baker’s percentage concept where the flour is always the constant and the hydration is the variable.

Here is my adaptation, from Jeffrey Hamelman, to make baguettes using Pâte Fermentée

Yield: approximately 6-8 baguettes depending on how big/small you make them.

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 250g plain flour (flour with a lower protein content)
  • 495g water
  • 15g salt
  • 3-5g instant yeast
  • 420g Pâte Fermentée / Old Dough
  1. Measure the water into your mixer bowl (remember to hold some water back).
  2. Then measure and combine all the other ingredients before you incorporate them into the water.
  3. Mix with a dough hook until combined, after which you can start chucking the pieces of old dough into the mix.
  4. Adjust the hydration if the dough appears too dry and knead until it is smooth and elastic.
  5. Once this is done, allow the dough to have a couple of hours of bulk fermentation.
  6. Give the dough a fold half way into its bulk fermentation.
  7. After its bulk fermentation, divide the dough into 250g pieces.
  8. Give the pieces a light pre-shape and allow to relax for 15-30 minutes before you give the baguettes their final shape up.
  9. Once shaped, let your baguettes prove for another 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure they are well covered to stop a dry crust forming on the surface of the dough. Sprinkling flour on top helps.
  10. Bake your baguettes in a really hot oven with some steam for 10 minutes, after which turn them around and bake for another 10 minutes.

TIP: To create steam, I like to have an old cast iron pan that heats up with the oven and when you place the baguette tray in the oven you spray the cast iron pan with a spritzer which will create steam on the hot pan – just like you get steam in a sauna.

So instead of chucking over proofed dough in the bin, chuck some into a new dough mix!

Happy Flour Power!


Flour-and-Spice Halloween Workshop

Halloween is around the corner!

This is an invitation to celebrate this bewitching time of the year I am having a Halloween Pumpkin Bread “Hands On” BreadCoaching workshop at the Chaffey Community Centre in Renmark Tuesday 23rd October, starting at 10am. The session will be at least until 3pm. There will be freshly made baguettes for lunch, all I ask is that participants bring some toppings to share.

We will be making some pumpkin shaped breads with pumpkin as an ingredient too! Best part will be that there is hardly any “Need to Knead” – No fancy gadget required either – Opportunity to discover how to make artisan, sourdough based bread. All ingredients are included in the cost of the ticket ($60.30 – booking via TryBooking)

So don’t delay as there is limited space, you can book your tickets here

I look forward to meeting some Bread Heads or should I say Pumpkin Heads in this instance? :))))

Happy Flour Power!


Baker’s Percentage

One of the most confusing concepts in my bread making journey has been the “Baker’s Percentage”. It took me quite a while to get my head around it properly. It was difficult because I was figuring it out by myself. However, when the penny did drop, baking bread has become an even greater pleasure and joy! Once I understood this concept, I discovered that I did not need a “bread recipe”. What is more important to understand are the “proportions” required for different ingredients when making bread. The Baker’s Percentage also allows you to scale your bread to the quantities of dough you require for a given batch of dough ingredients. Scaling is not about doubling or tripling or halving a recipe necessarily. Here’s the thing, if you are like me, where mental maths is not a forte, then a calculator is your best friend when making & baking bread and using the Baker’s Percentage. Most of us carry one in our back pocket these days – you know, that thing we like to call a smart phone.

So how does a Baker’s Percentage really work?

Continue reading Baker’s Percentage

Do you celebrate Mother’s Day with baked goods?

Happy Mother”s Day


Mother’s Day: An annual event either the 2nd Sunday in May but also 4th Sunday in Lent

Mothers have been honoured since ancient times traditional. However, it is a relatively recent phenomenon that there is a specific day assigned to Mother’s Day annually now. This was thanks to a campaign initiated by

View original post 346 more words

BREAD – A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman

BREAD by Jeffrey Hamelman sits on my bookshelf full of scribbles and is very heavily underlined in places. It continues to be one of my favourite bread books that I keep returning to when I need clarification. I wish I’d had the book when I first started my bread journey – hah, better late than never!

It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or an experienced bread maker/baker, the book is packed with valuable information and insights. The foreword to the book by Raymond Calvel is testament to this.

Now, before I continue on, in the interest of transparency and full disclosure the book links are affiliate links to my book review. You do not have to use them if you don’t wish to do so. However, if you like what I write and share here about the book, by clicking on the affiliate link you will help me potentially acquire more books in my subject area to review here in future and in return hopefully help you decide whether it is a book you wish to acquire too. I have chosen Book Depository because they offer free shipping worldwide.

The reason I am starting to review books is because as I share my bread making experience I’m also asked what books would be useful in the pursuit of further knowledge in this field, so here goes, for better or worse.

Who is Jeffrey Hamelman? In brief, he is the director of King Arthur Flour, which he joined in 1999 to teach and open their bakery. He is a Certified Master Baker in the USA and recipient of the Golden Baguette Award from the Bread Baker’s Guild and author of the book I’m reviewing here, which is now in its second edition. Here is a link to read more on Jeffrey Hamelman’s: Thought’s On Bread from a post in BREAD Magazine which also published an in depth interview with Jeffrey Hamelman in issue 19 – July 2016  you might like to read.

Jeffrey Hamelman’s book on BREAD is divided into two parts:

Part One walks you through the processes in bread making; the types of ingredients used and how these will affect your bread making; concluding with the different kinds of shaping techniques to be found in making bread. The latter being what truly accentuates bread making as an artisan craft.

Part Two introduces you to the actual making and baking of breads. Understanding how yeasted pre-ferments work and how bread making benefits from this. Then there is the question of breads and their formulas. Bakers prefer to work in formulas because it is a clear way of understanding the proportions used in the baking process.

My only critique in Hamelman’s book is his explanation of the Baker’s Percentage, which you will find in the appendix. Why? Because, the percentages are dealt in pounds. In order to understand baker’s maths you are way better off doing your calculations in metric. The use of pounds is way too convoluted and is probably a reason why many people find it so difficult to get their head around it, specially if they are trying to figure it out in pounds. Nevertheless, understanding baker’s percentages is great because it enables any baker to compute quantities and to scale them accordingly with this method. It is the universal recipe language between bakers – bakers don’t bother writing a recipe, they simply convey the percentages they have used in their bread formula. I’m not going to go into it here though as it is not in the context of this book review. Thankfully all the recipes in the second edition have both the pounds and metric amounts configured, plus even volumetric cups (which I never recommend as no cup volume of flour or salt is ever accurate). Working out the percentages on the given metric amounts isn’t really rocket science although a calculator does come in handy and anyone with a cell phone these days has one at their finger tips (curiously J.H. does not have a cell phone if he can help it).

Until I read Jeffrey Hamelman’s BREAD book I’d never really liked linseeds in my bread. They were hard and nasty bits that got stuck in between my teeth. It was pretty much an AHA moment when I discovered that it is best to soak them the night before and even add some of the salt, if not all of it because this would help inhibit enzymatic activity. It is thanks to this that I have been able to develop my popular “Sun n’ Seed” loaf which I teach in my Grains & Soakers Class.Sun N' Seed Loaf








As I mentioned earlier, there are two editions of this book and it is best to get the revised 2nd later edition because as I understand the first edition has limitations on the metric information and some indexing issues as well. All the recipes have step by step instructions and what I love best in the book are the blue inserts that explain more in detail stuff that will affect your baking. For example, explanations how: “Steam” in the oven contributes to your bread baking results; “Benefits of Pre-ferments” and more. They are a treasure trove of information nuggets spread through out the book. If you are keen on understanding the different nuances in baking and not just having recipes, this book is a little encyclopedia of bread information. This book stands as a firm staple in my stable of bread books. Hope you found this useful! If you have any questions happy to answer them in the comments section.

Happy Flour Power! 


P.S. I actually was fortunate enough to meet Jeffrey Hamelman when he came over to Adelaide for Tasting Australia’s Loaves & Fishes evening. He is a lovely, soft spoken man who truly loves this baking craft. Here a link to a great photo of him I found on the web by Nani Gutierrez. I also found a fascinating interview of him where he discusses his sense of life, and did you know that amongst other things he has been an avid bee keeper since 1982?




I have always been fascinated how flat breads are a world wide phenomena one way or another. Practically every culture has their own version of it, whether it is leavened or unleavened. Mexican tortillas are particularly interesting because of their fusion between the Old World and New World. Thanks to the discovery of America, Europe was introduced to corn based tortillas and they in return introduced wheat based ones to America when settlers started to grow wheat. What I wasn’t entirely aware of is the process that goes into producing/making corn based masa harina. Continue reading Tortillas

sourdough, real bread, baking, wild yeast, spices

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