Making a gorgeous loaf of bread from scratch is always enticing, but when you want something quick without fretting over whether or not the dough will rise properly, soda bread, a type of quick bread that conjures the magic of baking soda, is a great alternative.
The basic traditional Irish soda bread calls for flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to create the “rise” or leavening of the bread sans yeast. Some versions include currants and raisins or bits of candied orange peel or even chocolate chips. This is a savory twist with smoked salmon and fresh chives or dill, with an egg and some grated cheese for richness. Soda bread tends to dry out rather quickly so it’s best to enjoy it freshly baked and warm. It’s also excellent toasted with a smear of Irish butter or cream cheese, or topped with a fried egg for a delicious savory breakfast. — Kim Sunée
Quick soda bread with smoked salmon and herbs
3½ to 4 cups/475g to 540g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons/15g old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons/30g sugar
1 teaspoon/7g fine salt
1 heaping teaspoon/6g baking soda
4 tablespoons/55g unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces and slightly softened
125g/4.5 ounces smoked salmon, very finely chopped
50g/1.8 oz/1/2 cup grated cheddar or Gruyère cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives and/or dill
1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and juice from 1 medium lemon (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black (or white) pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1¼ to 1½ cups/about 400ml buttermilk, well shaken
(NOTE: for a buttermilk substitute, for every cup of buttermilk needed, squeeze 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a 1 cup measuring cup and fill with whole or low-fat milk)
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or a (10-inch) cast-iron skillet; set aside.
• Combine 3½ cups flour, oats, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in a large mixing bowl. Work butter into flour mixture, using your fingers — or two knives or a pastry cutter — until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add in salmon, cheese, chives, lemon zest, if using, pepper; mix just to combine.
• Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add beaten egg and 1½ cups of buttermilk; stir mixture with a wooden spoon until dough is stiff. If too dry, add a bit more buttermilk, up to another one-fourth to one-third cup. Dust hands with a tiny bit of flour and gently knead dough in the bowl just until it forms a rough ball. Note: Be careful not to overwork dough or bread will be tough. If dough is too sticky, add a tiny bit of flour, but keep in mind that dough should be somewhat sticky and a bit shaggy. The flour should be wet enough so that the dough barely comes together. Do not over-knead.
• Transfer dough to the prepared baking sheet or skillet. Using a knife or ulu, cut an “X” in the center of the dough, about ¾-inch deep; this will help heat get into the center of the bread as it cooks. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Note: A cast-iron skillet might take a little longer to heat. Also, test by inserting a thin skewer or knife tip into the center; if it comes out clean, your bread is ready to go. Remove pan or skillet from the oven; let bread sit in pan or skillet for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool very briefly. Soda bread dries out quickly, so enjoy freshly-baked and warm or toasted the next day.