As you get on a bit, you treasure the friends you’ve gathered up over the years, but rarely think about acquiring new ones. This all changed for me when, as per my retirement plan, I took a stall at our local monthly Vintage Fair. I quickly realised that here was a group of the nicest people you could hope to find – they made me so welcome, from my first day as a nervous stall-holder to the ‘Old Hand’ that I am now! Not forgetting the terrific customers who come to browse, sometimes to chat, and sometimes to buy my treasures!
I absolutely love them all
One who is especially worth a mention is the redoubtable Mrs Norah Brown, who has represented Ireland, and Northern Ireland in particular, with her cooking and baking skills all over Europe, has run a Cookery school, and still runs her own business. I feel so lucky to have met this great lady, and to have tasted first-hand, her delicious Jams and more recently her amazing Soda Bread.
She gave me the recipe off the top of her head, and I nervously tried it on a sunny Sunday morning, with no expectation of ever approaching her level of expertise..
So here – Eurovision mode 😉 – are the results of the Eating-for-Ireland jury.
I’m going say ‘Douze points’
- A large mixing bowl
- A sturdy wooden spoon
- A cup, or a weighing scales
- A sieve
- A 8”/24cm spring-release cake tin, or even an 8″/24cm sponge tin – well buttered
- 450g of Soda Bread Flour
- Buttermilk – about 500mls – you probably won’t use it all
- Don’t add any salt – it’s already in the flour.
- Check your oven book for the best shelf to bake this – mine is the bottom shelf in my old Neff Fan oven.
- Heat the oven to 180 Fan
- Prepare your baking tin, and leave to one side
- Sift the Soda bread flour into the bowl. Then, moving quickly:
- Mix about 300mls Buttermilk (I used 400mls today – see NOTES) into the flour.
- Using a flat-bladed knife, add enough Buttermilk to make a dough that looks – quoting Norah here – ‘like a thick porridge’
- Time to go in with your hands now – jewels off please 😉 – bring all the dough together, including any bits at the bottom of the bowl
- Gently pat the dough into a circular shape, about 5cms high. I didn’t bother kneading it too much.
- Put it into the baking tin, and ease it out a little towards the edges – mine didn’t quite get there this morning – but as it begins to cook, it will expand to fill most of the vacuum.
- Pop it in the oven.
- Give it 10 minutes at 180 Fan, then reduce it to 160Fan for another 20 – 25 minutes.
- Your Bannock will be done when it’s risen and golden brown, and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of it.
- Allow it to cool completely on a rack.
- When it’s cool, cut it in half, then into slices, butter well, and add your jam of preference..
- Well done! You’ve just saved a tradition!
- Norah tells me that she often throws in a handful of raisins to make a fruit soda, or some savoury bits and pieces such as crispy bacon bits and sun-dried tomatoes. I’ll definitely be trying a few variations.
- EDIT: I made my first Fruit Soda a couple of days after I published this recipe – I added a dessert spoon of Golden Caster sugar, and a handful of Raisins – my handful weighed 70g, if that helps – it’s absolutely delicious!
- Soda Bread flour – in Ireland, this actually is a ‘thing’ – it has flour with a raising agent and some salt in it, hence me not adding anything, as I so often would.
- I popped into the local Dunnes Stores on the way home from my Vintage Fair yesterday afternoon and they had Morton’s Soda Bread Flour reduced to £1 – that made me smile, because Norah, like so many of us, loves a bargain!
- She and I also had an interesting conversation about how much Buttermilk to use – I’ve always believed that the weather can play a part in this (I heard the revered Delia say that once) and Norah also mentioned that as Buttermilk gets older, it gets thicker, so you’ll need more if your Buttermilk is a couple of days old, rather than really fresh.
Baking is weird, that’s all I know.. But weird just makes life more interesting