1lb/ 1/2kg/ 4 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1pt/ 1/2 lr/ 2 cups buttermilk or sour milk
Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Scoop up handfuls and allow to drop back into the bowl to aerate the mixture. Add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough. Now work quickly as the buttermilk and soda are already reacting. Knead the dough lightly - too much handling will toughen it, while too little means it won't rise properly.
Form a round loaf about as thick as your fist. Place it on a lightly-floured baking sheet and cut a cross in the top with a floured knife. Put at once to bake near the top of a pre-heated oven, gas mark 8, 450°F, 230°C, for 30-45 minutes. When baked, the loaf will sound hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Wrap immediately in a clean tea-towel to stop the crust hardening too much.
Wheaten bread or brown soda is made in exactly the same way but with wholemeal flour replacing all or some of the white flour; this mixture will probably require less buttermilk. Another variation is to add 1/2 cup of sultanas to the white bread - this loaf is known as Spotted Dick.
This bread is popular throughout Ireland. Because it is easily and quickly made it is often baked fresh for tea or even breakfast. At home we used to call the loaf made with white flour soda bread, while that made with wholemeal was wheaten bread. In other parts of the country wheaten bread is referred to as brown soda or, confusingly, soda bread!
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