Soda bread, the most traditional of Irish baked goods is something we have always loved with butter and jam. This recipe from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen is one of the best we've ever tasted.

225g wholemeal flour
225g white flour
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda or baking soda), sieved

375-450ml buttermilk (depending on the consistency of buttermilk)


Preheat the oven to 230C/450F gas mark 8.

Mix the flours in a large, wide bowl, then add the salt and bicarbonate of soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched like a claw, stir in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever-increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later the dough is made.

Sprinkle a little flour on the worktop. Turn the dough pout onto the flour. (Fill the bowl with cold water now so it will be easy to wash later.) Wash and dry your hands to make it easier to handle the dough.

Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Then gently tidy the ball of dough, tucking the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands. Pat the dough gently with your fingers to flatten it slightly into a round loaf about 4cm thick. Slide one hand underneath and with your other hand on top transfer the dough to a baking tray.

Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called 'blessing the bread') and then prick it in the centre of each of the four sections to 'let the fairies out'. There's also a practical reason for doing this - the last part of the loaf to bake fully is the centre, so cutting the cross opens out the centre during cooking, allowing the heat to penetrate more evenly.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and cook for a further 15 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Leave to cook on a wire rack. 

Food styling courtesy of Ajda Mehmet.
Recipe courtesy of Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen which is now available here.