| 5.8°C Dublin

'No smell is sweeter than freshly baked bread'

Grub spy


PURE PLEASURE: Irish soda bread is delicious and simple to make

PURE PLEASURE: Irish soda bread is delicious and simple to make

PURE PLEASURE: Irish soda bread is delicious and simple to make

We've all discovered new stuff about ourselves in the past year: stuff we didn't know we could even do - like baking bread. Apparently the sale of flour in supermarkets is flying out the door. It's hard to believe how much home baking has taken off in Ireland. We're not baking non-stop seven-days a week - I mean, who has the time - but the fact that we're having a go is worthy of celebration.

If you do find the time to bake at home, it is typically cheaper, faster, and with practice you discover exactly the taste you like. And is there any smell sweeter than freshly baked bread? It's a different kind of pleasure.

The grande dame of British food writing, Elizabeth David, once wrote that "everyone who cooks, in however limited a way, should know how to make a loaf of soda bread" and never a truer word was spoken.

Which leads me to our gorgeous Irish soda bread - a massively important part of our history and a staple for generations. I have a friend who didn't taste white sliced pan bread until he was 12. His mother, originally from Achill Island, made wholemeal soda bread every couple of days in an ancient cast-iron Dutch oven-like pot. That's all his family were used to.

And while to us it might seem like something from our caveman past, our soda bread history only began in the mid-19th century, when bicarbonate of soda was first introduced.

Times were brutally hard, which meant our daily bread had to be made from the cheapest and most basic of ingredients - soft nutritious flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and buttermilk (the soda and sour milk caused the bread to immediately start rising).

To this day there is no bread as casually delicious and simple to make as Irish soda bread.

Dense and moist with a hint of sourness, it requires no kneading or proving, is yeast free and takes only a couple of minutes to prepare. I went mad making it during the first two lockdowns, but since then I have calmed down a bit.

My first attempts, clobbered by using too much bicarb and way too much heat, were truly awful. The loaves looked like burnt cowpats and tasted like soft aluminium. Then I discovered a fantastic American website called Bigger Bolder Baking. As it happens the site is run by Wexford woman Gemma Stafford, and what she doesn't know about baking is not worth knowing.

She reveals the superstitious reasons behind the cross and the stabbing of the bread to "let the fairies out" and ward off evil spirits from the house. Seriously, if you want to learn stuff and avoid rookie soda bread mistakes check her out (biggerbolderbaking.com).

With that kind of guidance I moved on to become a soda bread wizard. It's what happens when you think you know everything. Now I have the confidence to add a range of flavoursome goodies to my basic soda bread recipe such as black treacle, caraway seeds and walnuts, Guinness or raisins.

By not going too far OTT the end result can be like a magical collision of nutty textures and rich earthy flavours. The treacle option works particularly well with paté. Best of all though is a chunk of steaming hot, freshly baked bread slathered in butter.

Brag-worthy to wickedly delicious in a single bite.


Grape spy

by Jean Smullen

2019 Trésors de Loire

Pouilly-Fumé, €12.99

With Easter fast approaching, the Lidl Easter Wine Cellar range is now on sale. If you want to push the boat out, why not try this classic Pouilly-Fumé from one of the Loire's best known regions.

Pouilly-Fumé is the home of Sauvignon Blanc and the wines are elegant with a lovely smoky character. With restrained citrus fruit on the nose and a gorgeous lemon/lime fruit flavour, the acidity is balanced. A classy white wine, perfectly served with smoked salmon and a real treat for Easter.

⬤ jeansmullen.com

Sunday World