Days 9: Soda bread magic

After Wednesday’s delightfully indulgent day extolling and enjoying the virtues of food and wine, Thursday was back into the kitchen and back to work.

Kitchen 3 was abuzz early, especially with those of us on bread duty. 
This week we moved on from basic brown soda bread to traditional white soda bread and Thursday was my first day making it. Made in much the same way as the basic brown except with white flour and instead of going into a tin to cook it’s in an open loaf on a tin.

Rory O’Connell with the white soda bread he made in Monday’s demonstration

On the course we’ll make 3 main types of soda bread; basic, traditional white and next week we get into browns. This is before moving on in week 4 to yeast breads and then to speciality breads like sourdough (can’t wait!). However given that soda bread is Irelands traditional bread and is so easy to make and so so delicious, it’s a perfect starting point.

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Rory’s white soda bread

Before Ballymaloe I’d made a bit of bread but not much. And soda bread is so easy! 4 ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk), about 5-10 mins prep time and then approx 45 minutes later you are rewarded with a beautifully risen and delicious loaf. Especially when it’s eaten fresh from the oven and with plenty of salted butter.

The buttermilk which we learnt so much about on Wednesday is (you guessed it) the trick to this amazing bread. Being an acid, it reacts with the alkaline in the baking powder to give the bread its magic rise without any yeast, kneeding or rising time.

In fact,  the minimal time you spend mixing it is crucial, as this bread does not improve with too much man handling:

“Soda bread is the least ‘kneedy’ bread of the lot” – Rory O’Connell

Once you add the butter milk it’s about just bringing it all together and then popping it straight into the oven. But back to the buttermilk. The Ballymaloe stuff is thick and creamy and made daily when the butter is made. We’re so lucky to be able to use it. Did you know you can make buttermilk (or sour milk) but just adding a little lemon juice or vinegar to regular whole milk? You can also buy buttermilk from supermarkets but as Darina laments it’s often the low fat variety. We’re encouraged to “add a few spoons of cream” if we buy any supermarket versions.

The other lovely (and crucially important) trick to making soda bread is to “cut it and let the fairies out“. Once it’s shaped this means means cutting into the bread at 4 points to create indents where the air (and fairies) can escape.

“You must let the fairies out of the bread. If you don’t do this, they spoil the bread and it won’t work. If you’re pure of heart you’ll see them leave.”

– Darina (but also mentioned by Rory and Rachel – it really is a thing!

How cool is that!? A bit of magic in bread making.

I got a pretty satisfactory 8 out of 10 for my first attempt on Thursday. (Seen here with a few other of my Thursday efforts, a cabbage salad and spicy mushroom and black eyed bean stew.)


There must have been one or two fairies left in there….

And finally a few other snaps to follow from this beautiful day on the farm.

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