Last week we tested out our new addition to our menu, soda bread. After looking at several recipes, we opted for Rachel Allen's Irish Soda Bread featured in a Blackbird Bread favourite, 'Bake' and, with the exception of a couple of things, (see below), it's the one for us! You can find it at http://www.rachelallen.co.uk/recipes_april09.html
We'd actually had a go at a soda bread a few months before using Daniel Stevens recipe from the 'River Cottage Bread Book' and used soured milk. To be honest, it was like a heavy, doughy, bland scone. And I think this is where the buttermilk comes into play. The interaction between the acidity of the buttermilk and the bicarbonate of soda really lifts the dough, and creates a light, crumbly but moist bread.
Rachel Allen's recipe is incredibly simple, however, the thing to consider is the amount of buttermilk. You need lots of it too! But the recipe is a little vague on the exact quantity of buttermilk (350-425 ml). So initially, and because we only had one pot of buttermilk, we used 300ml of buttermilk and topped it up with 50ml of milk.
We did a deep cut into it, which was very easy to do and it baked retaining the cut. But, I don't think this is quite right. It's split almost completely open which differs to the photo in Rachel's book.
We tested this loaf on some of our customers. While some people loved the taste, others said it lacked the distinct soda bread hit!
So we tried again, adding a pinch more salt, a quarter of a teaspoon more of bicarbonate of soda and, most importantly, far more buttermilk - 400ml. We were concerned that too much buttermilk and the dough would become too wet and unworkable. We were right, straightaway the dough was far more soggy and difficult to cut a deep cross into (we needed to keep wetting my knife just to get it through the dough!). But we think this is the nature of this type of bread, and dealing with the wetness of the dough is worth the result.
It came out like this.
The dough has risen and almost sealed the cross, which is exactly as I had seen in various books.
Taste-wise, it was a hit with all out testers and is now a new feature on our bread menu.