Every day at the cookery school, students make delicious tasting fresh breads. There was nothing more appetizing and mouth-watering than the smell of fresh bread baking, as it wafted through the corridors and offices in the school. I could only admire from a distance and sit green-eyed with envy as the students and staff tucked into slice, after slice, after slice! This is no longer the case and this delicious soda bread is a far cry from the crumbly, dry offerings, coeliacs considered to be bread in the past!
Makes 1 loaf
275g (10 ozs) rice flour
110g (4 ozs) tapioca flour
50g (2 ozs) dried milk
1 scant level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, sieved
1 heaped teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaped teaspoon xanthan gum
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 egg, preferably-free range, lightly beaten
300 - 350ml (10 - 12fl oz) buttermilk, approximately
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8.
Sift all the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix well by lifting the dry ingredients up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore hopefully more lightness to your finished bread. Lightly whisk the egg and buttermilk together. Make a well in the centre and pour in most of the egg and buttermilk at once. Using one hand, with your fingers stiff and outstretched like a claw, stir in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever-increasing circles, adding a little more buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
The trick with white soda bread is not to over-mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and as gently as possible thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a rice-floured work surface.
Wash and dry your hands. With rice-floured fingers, roll lightly for a few seconds - just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a round, pressing to about 5cm (2 inch) in height.
Place the dough on a baking tray dusted lightly with rice flour. With a sharp knife cut a deep cross in it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with a knife at 4 angles as, according to Irish Folklore, this is to let the fairies out!
Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for a further 25-30 minutes or until cooked. If in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and homemade jam.
Note: This soda bread is best served the day it is made. However, it tastes lovely toasted the next day. If there is any bread left over, I whizz it in a food processor and keep the gluten-free breadcrumbs in the freezer for a future use.
Copyright Darina Allen & Rosemary Kearney, Ballymaloe Cookery School