The great thing about Irish Soda Bread is that it's so incredibly easy to make, always works out, and only takes about half an hour. I also happen to like it, and think it would work well with a lovely bowl of hot Irish Stew. So if you're tempted to make your own bread, but can't be bothered to faff around with scary yeast mixtures- this is the one for you.
I've taken the recipe from Terence and Vikki Conran's Classic Conran Cookbook. This is one of the best cookery books I've got on my over-laden bookshelves. If you haven't got a copy, I urge you to head for your local bookshop and order a copy.
Back to the Soda Bread. Pre-heat your oven to 230 C (450 F). Put in a baking sheet and warm it up. Meanwhile sift 350g wholemeal stone-ground flour, 220g plain white flour, a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into your favourite bowl and mix them up well.
Rub in 20g butter. That means mixing the butter into the flour with your hands. Strangely satisfying. Now mix in 300ml of buttermilk. The buttermilk contains lactic acid, which will react with the bicarbonate of soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide.
By now you should have a soft, but not sticky dough. Next flour a board or work surface and turn your dough out onto it. Knead it lightly. Shape it into a flattish round, and cut a cross onto the surface. Place the loaf onto the hot baking sheet, and bake in the oven for ten minutes. Once that's done, turn the oven down to 200 C (400F) and cook for a further fifteen minutes.
And that's it. You can find out if it's ready by tapping the base. If it sounds hollow- it's ready. Finis.