Matthew: I was perusing the new book section at the library and happened upon a large cookbook called The Country Cooking of Ireland. I didn’t really know much about Irish cooking, so I thought it would be interesting. This cookbook is a serious study of the dishes made throughout Ireland and dispels the idea that Irish cooking is boring or bad. I decided to first try one of the soda bread recipes and although I couldn’t find the Irish flour the recipe called for, the bread turned out great. I’m used to sweet soda breads with raisins, so it was a nice change to try one flavored with thyme. Making the bread was simple too, with just a few ingredients. I’ll probably try a few of the other soda bread recipes in the cookbook soon. Here’s the recipe:
3 1/2 cups/350g flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 to 2 cups/360 to 475 ml buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450F/230C. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl. Mix in the thyme. Form a well in middle of flour mixture and pour at least 13oz/385ml of buttermilk into the well. Form your hand into a rigid claw and stir the buttermilk into the flour slowly but steadily in a spiral motion, starting in the middle and working outwards. Add more of the buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be soft but not too wet or sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead lightly; then flour your hands and shape the dough into a flat round about 1 1/2 in thick. Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf with a wet or floured knife, then put on a lightly floured baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 400F/200C and bake for 20 minutes more, or until nicely browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.