My first loaf: Irish soda bread

The first baking or sweet cooking I can remember doing was when I was about eight. My cousin Andrew and I whipped up some sort of ‘chocolate pancake’ concoction, which we proudly fed to my dad. I can still remember him gamely wolfing the whole portion and pronouncing it ‘delicious!’. I can only imagine what it really tasted like. The things parents do for their kids.

Irish soda bread was another first for me – it was one of the first real recipes I ever baked on my own, with no motherly help. Armed with a Jeanne Lemlin cookbook, I still remember tackling a free form loaf when I was a young teen. I also remember enjoying the finished product, so it’s a shame that I don’t think I’ve baked a similar loaf since!

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Oatmeal wholegrain soda bread

Soda bread is one of the easiest and quickest recipes in the baking repertoire. And when you add healthy grains like oats and whole wheat, it’s also highly nutritious – perfect for my ‘clean and green’ January eating routine. (And the perfect accompaniment to Lucy Waverman’s chicken and vegetable soup with dill.)

This is a great recipe for the beginning baker, or just the harried baker in need of a quick dinner accompaniment. I hope it won’t be another 15 years before I make it again.

Irish Oatmeal Soda Bread
Adapted from The New Family Bread Book by Ursula Ferrigno

Makes one 8-inch round loaf

300 g wholewheat flour
55 g fine oatmeal (or pulse thick-cut oats briefly in a food processor)
25 g unsalted butter, diced
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp sugar
200 ml buttermilk or yogurt
200 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. If you want to make a free form loaf, grease a baking sheet. If you want a more uniformly shaped loaf, grease and flour an 8 inch (20 cm) cake pan, preferably with deep sides.

Put the flour and oatmeal into a large bowl, add the butter, and work it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the baking soda, salt and sugar. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk or yogurt and the milk. With a wooden spoon mix quickly to form a dough; if it’s too wet add a bit more flour and work it in.

Using your hands, either free form the dough into an 8-inch round on the baking tray or ease it into the cake pan and smooth down the top. Dust with more flour and make a cross in the top of the loaf using a wooden spoon handle.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes in the centre of the oven, until the loaf is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. The bread should be eaten on the day it is baked.