As St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, I decided to try out a typical Irish soda bread using my gluten-free bread flour blend. Most soda bread recipes seem to only require a few basic ingredients – flour, salt, sugar, milk & lemon (or buttermilk) and most importantly, bicarbonate of soda/baking soda. If you have these ingredients readily available in your kitchen, then you can have warm, crusty, freshly baked bread in less than an hour. As there is no yeast in the soda bread, there is no rising or proving time needed. Just a quick mix and mould of the dough (10 minutes max.) and a 35-minute bake in a hot oven. The good news is that it is quick to make and bake, the bad news is that you need to eat it on the day of baking (or is that such a bad thing?). It becomes quite hard if eaten the next day, but you can resort to toasting leftover slices. For this reason, this recipe only makes a small loaf, however, if you have plenty of mouths to fill, doubling the recipe makes a decent size loaf for a family.

This rustic, crackly bread goes well with any hearty soup, casserole or pie dish, like my Gluten-Free Beef and Ale Pies. Anything that calls for dunking chunky soda bread slices into a soup or sauce, completes a classic Irish comfort meal.

Some interesting background about why a cross is slashed across the bread dough before baking – according to folklore, it was to keep the devil out while the bread was baked. Another was that this symbol was done to bless the bread and offer thanks. From a practical point of view, these openings allow the bread to rise.

Why was soda introduced to the bread? In the 1800s, the foam that would form on top of any alcohol would be used to leaven soda bread. Mixed with lemon juice, the soda bread batter would expand and bake into a perfect quick-bread loaf. Nowadays, we resort to a healthier leaver found in a sealed packet consisting of bicarbonate of soda, also known as baking soda.

While baking the soda bread, I was tempted to add something to the batter but felt it was best to start off with a loaf of basic soda bread. It turns out that there are plenty of versions out there using raisins, cheese, chocolate chips, cranberries, cinnamon, beer, nuts, oatmeal, bacon or herbs. If you like this style of bread, then have fun picking your favourite addition for your next soda bread. I reckon raisins and cinnamon would make a perfect breakfast soda bread, as well as topping it with any breakfast jam!

Gluten-Free Soda Bread

Ingredients:
  • 280g store-bought or homemade gluten-free bread flour blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon psyllium husk
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 220ml milk (use almond milk for dairy-free) *
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice * (substitute 250ml buttermilk* for the milk and lemon juice)
  • 30-50ml fizzy water or soda, cold
  • Tapioca flour, for rolling out

To serve:

  • Butter, at room temperature (use margarine for dairy-free)

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F.

2. Mix the milk and lemon juice together in a jug and set aside for 5 minutes to curdle (or use buttermilk instead).

3. Sift the bread flour, psyllium husk, bicarb. of soda, salt and sugar and whisk to combine in a medium bowl.

4. Form a well in the flour mixture and add the milk & lemon mixture  (or buttermilk) to it. Add some or all of the cold fizzy water or soda and bring it together to form a soft dough.

5. Using floured hands, shape the dough into a round mould and place it onto a floured baking tray.

6. Using a serrated knife, slash the dough crosswise.

7. Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for 20 to 25 minutes, then flip the bread over and continue to bake for a further 8-10 minutes. The bread is fully cooked when it is tapped and sounds hollow. Cook longer until it sounds hollow.

8. Allow to cool down on a wire mesh.

9. Using a serrated knife, slice the soda bread into 1cm slices and serve with softened butter and your favourite comfort soup or casserole.

This soda bread serves enough for 2 to 3 persons