Soda bread - buttermilk vs. water & vinegar

Sunday, February 08, 2009
Surely bread making can't be this easy?

Wheat or gluten intolerance/ allergy? no problem, you can use Doves Farm gluten free bread flour. Yeast free? No problem, you can bake soda bread. There's a first time for everything after all.

Our normal bread rolls, shown on the left - half pesto (nearest the bottom), half walnut, raisin and rosemary (top)use yeast. As the yeast comes to life it emits carbon dioxide, hence bread rises.

With soda bread, it needs an acid to react with the bicarbonate of soda to cause the rising effect. Most often this acid is buttermilk, but if you are intolerant to this too, or you just can't find buttermilk on the day you need it you can - as I found out here - use water and vinegar - the vinegar giving you the requisite acid. But which is better? Only one way to find out.

It's been bookmarked for anyone else who wants to try it on the virtual recipe drawer that is Bookmarked Recipes - your one-stop shop for tried and tested recipes from the food blogger community updated every Monday.

There's only one place to find an irish traditional recipe: Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Every year all the chefs at Claridges are given a cookery book at Christmas from a bursary. This was mine one year, and it's only over the last year or so that I have really delved in.


Edit 10/8/2012

What can you substitute for buttermilk?

Buttermilk can be hard to find in some place, or it's easy to forget when you're out shopping. You can make this really simple subsitute - see more here: 1001 Kitchen Tips #69 - What can you substitute for buttermilk in soda bread?


Version 1 - Flour, soda, water, salt

EDIT 22/9/2013 - Rather than the recipe above I used this one yesterday and today - much better! Replaced milk with water as it was gluten and dairy free.

For this version I used the ingredients from here and the method from the above book.

4 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
2tsp cider vinegar [I used white wine vinegar]

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour in all of the water & vinegar. Using one hand...... stir in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever-increasing circles. The dough should be softish, not too wet & sticky.

When it all comes together turn out onto a well-floured surface. Wash and dry your hands.

Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1 1/2 in) deep.
Cut a deep cross on the loaf.....
..... and prick in the four corners. Bake in the (pre-heated) oven for 15 minutes at 250 oC, then turn down to 200 oC for 30 minutes until cooked. If you are in any doubt [as to whether it's cooked], tap the bottom of the bread: when it is cooked it will sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: Soda breads are best eaten on the day they are made, but are still good for another day or two.
My note: If you do keep it, you need to put it in a plastic bag. This keeps it from drying out to a crisp - especially the water version.
Variations - Many. Herbs, cumin, seeds. If you start adding ingredients like sultanas, raisins, eggs, whisky, orange zest, blueberries, shortening (butter or lard) etc. you go into the realms of Spotted dog, railway bread and soda bread becomes like brioche and cake - where do you start?

Also here I used just white flour. It would be interesting to use some of the different Shipton Mill flours.

Version 2 - Flour, soda, buttermilk, salt

Soda bread is a simple recipe of 4 ingredients. Less is more. It's just a matter of the right quantities - below, which come from the original Ballymalloe recipe. This is the version I made 18 hours ago 'this' morning.
450 g / 1 lb Plain white flour (preferably unbleached)
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
About 400ml (14 fl oz) buttermilk

Use the same method as above. The buttermilk was actually a bit too much so I added a little more flour to make it less sticky.
The verdict?

Well for me - definitely the buttermilk version. Silky soft, but with a slightly crunchy crust. And so delicious. And what could be easier - with soda bread there's no kneading and no proving!

Why is soda bread linked to Ireland

A little research suggests the link to Ireland (you always hear of irish soda bread) comes from the fact that wheat traditionally grown in ireland is soft wheat due to the climate, rather than the hard wheat used to produce strong bread flour which rises easily with yeast. The soft irish wheat is more suited to bread soda (bicarbonate of soda) as a rising agent.

What type of flour do I use for soda bread?

There's a word of warning here that I found when asking this very question. It doesn't seem right using anything but strong bread flour to make bread, but in fact, the strong flour has a high gluten content which is best for yeast breads, but absolutely not soda breads. So use plain flour. You can also make a gluten free soda bread with rice flour - but that's another day.

These 2 loaves were served at Hill House as part of a bistro meal - The first version on Friday and the buttermilk version on Saturday.

Related posts:


BR Guest Host said...

This is such an informative post! Thanks for hosting BMR last week and participating again with this fabulous bread! ~ Chris

Anonymous said...


James said...

No worries :o)

Louise Haines said...

Please could I have the recipe for the gluten free soda bread using dairy free buttermilk or water/vinegar ild be so grateful

James said...

@ Louise Haines - When I tried the gluten free version before I made it with rice flour: I added a tsp baking powder and 1 egg to the recipe above. I remember it being quite heavy. It's a recipe to keep working on.

You're much better of trying this one: which I have used since. The Doves Farm recipes always work and have great results. Use rice, soy, almond milk or similar for dairy free.