This bread is a traditional staple in Ireland and has been made since a time when there was no fancy kitchen equipment or mixers and no supermarkets where you could buy essentials cheaply. Every scrap of food had to be used. Cream needed to be preserved without refrigeration so it was beaten and churned until the fat separated from the milk to form a clump of butter leaving the buttermilk as a by-product, which was poured off and saved. After the butter was washed with cold water to remove the remaining, more perishable buttermilk and salted, the buttermilk was then used to make this bread. Buttermilk is slightly acidic so it reacts with the bicarbonate of soda to make the bread rise without the need for yeast. Traditionally and with a typical Irish no-frills attitude, this bread is baked free-form, without a tin. I’m sure some ancient Irish mammy wanted to cut down on the wash-up and all the other mammies loved this idea causing a revolution. Opting for a tin though makes cutting easier but the choice is yours. If you do opt for the free-form approach you should score a cross on the top with a sharp knife. I’m sure this makes it rise better but this is traditionally known as blessing the bread and not doing so will ruin your loaf.
As corny as it may sound, when I was first making the butter and then using the buttermilk for this recipe, I really felt a lot more Irish and connect to my ancestors who may have had to do this on a daily basis. Doing what they did and then eating what they ate, although I did use a free-standing mixer to make the butter and I bought the remaining ingredients in the supermarket. I felt sufficiently connected without milling my own flour and taking advantage of some unsuspecting cow.
- 450 g plain flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 400 ml buttermilk
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp olive oil for greasing tin.
- Add the vinegar to the buttermilk and set aside for 15 minutes.
- Sift or whisk the dry ingredients together leaving a well in the centre for the buttermilk.
- Add the buttermilk to the well, mixing together by hand with your hand in a rigid claw shape.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and briefly shape and lift into an oiled baking tin.
- Place into a preheated oven at 230 degrees Celsius and immediately turn down to 200 degrees Celcius.
- Bake for 45 minutes, remove from tin and return it to the oven to bake for a further 10 minutes.