For a softer crust (Soda Bread)

A few tips on baking bread to get that elusive soft crust

These tips are, for the most part, aimed at soda bread recipes (white, brown, treacle, railway cake etc) although you can use this tip for any type of bread really.

  1. Add a tablespoon of Oil to buttermilk - you can also make this a health benefit!
  2. When the bread is ready, remove it from the oven and wrap the bread in a tea-towel or cloth and allow to cool on a wire rack. The heat releases slowly through the cloth and softens the crust.

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Currant Cake

Railway Cake / Currnie Cake / Sweet Soda Bread

A variation on the standard White Soda Bread is a sweeter bread with a variety of names - depends what part of the country you're in! The addition of sugar, an egg and Currants/Raisins/Sultanas to the bread results in ... a Cake!

So, by following the same basic recipe a bread can quickly become a Cake; in reality it is more of a sweet bread which is great with butter, jam and cup of tea.


  • 1 lb (450g/3¼ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon salt
  • 1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon breadsoda
  • Sour milk or buttermilk to mix - 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.
  • 1 cup Currants or Raisons or Sultanas (I prefer plump juicy Sultanas)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 egg

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

Sieve all the dry ingredients and mix in the fruit. Make a well in the centre. Beat the egg and mix it with the buttermilk. Pour most of the milk mixture in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up, flip over. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross. Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Wrap in a clean tea-towel and leave on a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy with butter, jam and a cup of tea!

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Buttermilk Dilema

The search for an alternate to Buttermilk

I recently wrote about my grandeos experiment to see how Cream of Tartar and Breadsoda can be used in Irish soda bread without the need for Buttermilk. Well, the news is good Buttermilk lovers and producers everywhere.... the bread without buttermilk wasn't good. In fact it was pretty awful.

I followed my usual (Irish) Brown bread recipe but used 2 tps of Cream of Tartar and fresh milk instead of Buttermilk. Everything started well and the dough looked pretty promised as it headed into the oven. The tap-tap on the loaf after 45 mins sounded good. I was encouraged, even optimistic at this stage; alas it wasn't to last.

The bread was brittle; brittle is not as good as crumbly and crumbly is not good. Let's not jump to conclusions though - what about the taste? Aaaagghhhh, awful. I thought for a nanosecond about trying again and altering the ingredients but no, I reached for the buttermilk and made myself a nice loaf of white soda bread. Ah, the bliss of normality returned to my kitchen.

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Real Butter

The need for real butter in a world full of spreads

You've seen the ads, "Tastes like butter", "looks like butter", maybe evens "smells like butter" but it's not and let's face it, a dairy-spread is just not butter.

I use butter in quite a few of my recipes and I'd recommend that you do too. However, where I get really fussy is what you put on your freshly baked sodabread, brack, scones - that has to be butter... real authentic butter.

In the US they have Salted Butter and Unsalted Butter - I've tasted neither but I've noticed that Kerrygold Butter is being marketed to the USA now. This is what I'm talking about - real Irish Butter! Even if your bread or scones aren't the May West, this will make them taste great. Add some Jam (Irish speak, called Jelly in the US) and you're pretty close to heaven.

Update: I took a look around the Kerrygold website and found that they also list Dubliner Irish Cheese - if you like a mature Chedder, this is good stuff.

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Alternative to Buttermilk

What can you use instead of buttermilk?

Tonight I'm planing on trying a buttermilk alternate - Bextartar - in my Brown Soda Bread recipe. The Bextartar works by provided the acidic reaction with the alkaline Bread Soda so as to rise the dough - let's see tonight how it works and tastes. The full report tomorrow.

Update: Bextartar is a brand name; the generic name is Cream of Tartar; when Bread Soda and Cream of Tartar powders are mixed you get Baking Power, a raising agent. In the recipes I use the mixture is 1 teaspoon of bread Soda and 2 teaspoons of cream of Tartar for each 1lb of flour.

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Brown Scones

Essentially the same as the White Scone recipe but with Wholemeal flour and little extra milk. Great when just out of the oven with a little real butter.

This recipe makes 18-20 scones using a 72 cm (3inch) cutter(*)

  • 900g (2lb) wholemeal flour
  • 170g (6oz) butter
  • 3 free range eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 55g (2oz) castor sugar
  • 3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
  • 500ml (16.5floz) approx. milk to mix

(*) I don't have a fancy cutter - I use a glass!

For glaze:
  • egg wash (see below)

First preheat the oven to 250C/475F/gas 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about 22cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Irish Brown Bread

Irish Brown bread - also referred to as Brown Soda Bread; this is very similar to the White Soda bread except for the wholemeal flour... and I love to add a few extras.


  • 1lb / 450g coarse wholemeal flour
  • 6 oz / 175g plain white flour
  • 1 rounded teaspoon bread soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ pint / 450ml buttermilk (approx.)


  • Preheat over to 400 °F / 200 °C / gas mark 6.
  • Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir in enough buttermilk to make a fairly soft dough.
  • Turn on to a work surface dusted with wholemeal flour and lightly pull together; no heavy kneading required.
  • Form into a circle, about 2" thick, and place onto a baking sheet. Mark a deep cross in the top with a knife. 
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, until bread is browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. 
  • Cool on a wire rack and optionally wrap in a clean tea/dish towel if you want to keep the crust soft.
Optional Ingredients:

I like to add Wheatgerm and Flaxseed to my brown bread - it adds colour, complexity and of course it's good for you. Usually a few tablespoons will do but feel free to experiment. I also add a little oil which makes the bread nice and soft, lately I've been using Flax Oil as it has some additional health benefits over Olive Oil (which is also great by the way); a couple of tablespoons added along with the buttermilk.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is suitable for human consumption, if it is very fresh, refrigerated and unprocessed, and is used as a nutritional supplement. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha-linolenic acid, which appears to be beneficial for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and a variety of other health conditions. Flaxseed also contains a group of chemicals called lignans that may play a role in the prevention of cancer.

Now, that's the science bit. On it's own it's not very nice to taste but when you add it to bread-mix you get all the benefit but no bad taste!

See also Blended Oil.

Wheat germ

Wheat germ is something I like to add to recipes whenever I can; of course it's an essential part of an Irish Brown Bread recipe but it can also be added to other breads and to Smoothies.

Why is Wheat germ important?

Well, in my opinion it adds flavour and texture which is reason enough but there's another, even better, reason. Wheat germ is very good for you.

Wheat Germ and Wheat Bran Benefits:
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Combats colon cancer
  • Prevents constipation
  • Helps stop strokes
  • Protects against heart disease
  • Improves digestion

Three Ways that Wheat Germ and Wheat Bran Keep You Healthy

Dissolves Cholesterol
Cholesterol has the power to clog or block your arteries, trigger heart attacks, and cause stroke. But wheat germ has the raw power to stop it.

A French study found that eating 30 grams, or about a quarter of a cup, of raw wheat germ a day for 14 weeks lowered total cholesterol by 7.2 percent. It also lowered LDL, or “bad” cholesterol by 15.4 percent and triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, by 11.3 percent.

This is important because, according to another study, reducing cholesterol just 7 percent may lead to a 15 percent lower risk of heart disease.

Wheat germ’s success against LDL cholesterol could stem for the antioxidant powers of vitamin E. Studies show that vitamin E from foods (not from supplements) prevented LDL particles from becoming oxidized. Oxidized LDL presents a much greater danger to your health.

When a fat such as LDL undergoes oxidation, it is more prone to collect in blood vessels to form plaque. Over time, the plaque narrows the blood vessels or unleashes a clot, which can result in a heart attack or stroke. When LDL is not oxidized, it does not seem to cause problems.

Because vitamin E in supplements might not offer the same protection, your best bet is to get vitamin E through your diet.

Fights Heart Disease
The message that whole foods are better than supplements was sounded earlier by a New England Journal of Medicine study on the risk of heart disease in post-menopausal women.

In that study, women who got the most vitamin E from food sources were less than half as likely to develop heart disease as women who ate the least. However, the same relationship didn’t exist for supplemental vitamin E. Another recent study suggested that, even after four to six years, vitamin E, supplements had no effect on the risk of heart disease. Again, a better strategy is to get vitamin E through foods rather than pills.

When it comes to foods, whole-grain foods offer even more protection. A Harvard Medical School study of 75,521 nurses showed that eating about 2.5 servings of whole grains a day could lower your risk of heart disease by about 30 percent, an estimate the researchers said “may be conservative”.

The whole-grain foods they studied included wheat germ and bran. Research data showed that eating about one serving of each per day dramatically reduced the risk of heart disease. People who ate a little less than one serving of wheat germ per day were 59 percent less likely to develop heart disease than people who rarely ate wheat germ. For bran, one serving per day reduced the risk of developing heart disease by 37 percent.

Of course, whole-grain foods have several heart-healthy things going for them, including fiber, folate, vitamin E, and potassium. But the beauty of eating whole foods is you don’t have to figure out how each nutrient helps you – you get the combined benefits of them all.

Defends Against Cancer
When it comes to heavy hitters against colon cancer, wheat bran is Babe Ruth. Time and time again, wheat bran has knocked colon cancer out of the ball park.

A cup of wheat bran gives you a whopping 25 grams of fiber. This kind of fiber, insoluble fiber, adds bulk to your stool and dilutes the carcinogens in it. It also speeds your stool through the gastrointestinal tract so it’s not hanging around causing trouble. This makes wheat bran good for curing constipation and maintaining a healthy gut as well as protecting you against cancer.

But fiber might not be the only hero. Wheat bran also has a lot of phytic acid, a substance with antioxidant properties that may stop tumors. Those who doubt fiber’s anticancer power point to phytic acid as a possible explanation for wheat bran’s effectiveness against colon tumors.

Whether it’s the fiber or the phytic acid, wheat bran works. Studies have shown wheat bran can inhibit both colon and intestinal tumors better than other bran’s such as oat or barley.

Donate a Recipe

I'm always looking for new Recipes - leave a comment on this post and I'll try out your suggestions....

Scones / Tips

Scones are easy to make but there are a few things you can do to make them even better....

The secret of success:

Use a large wide bowl.

Sieve the flour at least once. Use butter, it makes all the difference to the flavour. Rub the butter in coarsely. If the shortening is rubbed in too finely the scones will be dense and heavy. Resist the temptation to use a food processor, even though its fast - the scones will be close and leaden.

Add all the liquid at once and mix quickly in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl, in ever increasing concentric circles. When you get to the outside of the bowl (a matter of seconds), the scone dough is made.

Handle gently, don’t knead, just tidy and roll or pat into a round or square, stamp out as many scones as possible first time, re-rolled dough always results in tougher scones.

Roll or pat to one inch thick, this really matters. If the dough is too thick, the scones will be cooked on top and underneath but still doughy in the centre, or they may topple over while baking.

If the dough is rolled too thinly, the proportion will be wrong - too much crust and not enough crumb. Put immediately into a fully preheated oven and bake.

Cool the scones on a wire rack as soon as they are baked. Freshly baked scones are best.

Tea Brack

See Brack.

Garlic & Coriander Naan Bread

Follow the basic recipe for Naan Bread but add some grated Garlic and finely chopped Coriander leaves to the dry ingredients. I'm not giving amounts here as it's a matter of taste as to how much is enough or indeed too much!

In fact there are lots of variations you can try - I recently added some sun dried tomatoes and it proved to be delicious.

Naan Bread

Okay, I know -it's not Irish but I love Indian food and Naan bread just goes with Indian food so well.


450-grams Strong White Flour
2-tsp Sesame Seeds
1-tbsp Baking Powder (*You can also use yeast in this recipe, use the ready-prepared type)
½-tsp Onion Seed
1-tsp Granulated Sugar
2 tbsp Yoghurt
1 tsp Aromatic Salt
Ghee, melted
Luke Warm Water


Place in all ingredients except the ghee in a large glass bowl. Add warm water incrementally, while working the flour into a lump with your fingers. Transfer the dough onto a floured board and knead it until it is well combined. Return the dough to the bowl and place it in a warm place for 2 hours to rise. When risen the dough should have doubled in bulk and become bubbly and elastic. Knead the dough back down to its original size.

Divide the dough into 2 identical portions. Work each ball into a 5mm thick disc on a floured work surface.

Preheat your grill to ¾-heat, cover the rack with foil and set it in mid-way . Grill the Naan on the foil; bear in mind Naan burns easily . Take the Naan off the grill as soon as the 1st side develops brown patches. Turn the Naan over and brush the uncooked side with melted ghee. Return the bread to the grill and cook it until sizzling, the remove it. Repeat with the other Naan

Serve it hot with a spicy curry (like Madras, Vindaloo if you're insides can take the heat).

Natural Yoghurt

Never quite sure if it's Yogurt or Yoghurt, either way, I'm partial to natural yoghurt and so much so, I looked at how I could make my own. I never imagined it could be so easy, and I mean so, so incredibly easy.


1/2 Pint Whole Milk or Low Fat Milk, whichever is your preference
1 Tablespoon of Live Natural Yoghurt

Note: The yoghurt has to be live.


Make sure your starter yoghurt is live; you can buy live yoghurt in most supermarkets - the best starter is live organic; you'll be using the cultures in the live yoghurt to convert your milk into yoghurt - once you've made the first batch then you can use it the make the next and so on.  If this recipe/method does not work then you've probably not used live yoghurt to start.  Big hint: the start has to be live!

For this you'll need a sterile glass jar and lid (heat it the oven to sterilise it) and some aluminium foil.

Heat the milk to near boiling but don't allow it to boil.  Allow to blood temperature and add the live yoghurt and give it a good mix. Pour the mixture into the sterile jar, seal it and wrap the entire jar and lid in aluminium foil - this keeps the heat in.

Now you need to leave the jar for 12/24 hours in a warm place (back in Ireland, a 'hot press' would be perfect for this). I've found that an ideal place is in the oven with just the light on - if you place the wrapped jar beside the light bulb in the oven, the bulb gives off just enough heat to keep the jar warm and allow the cultures to develop and convert the milk into yoghurt.  This is the delicate part - too hot or too cold will kill the live cultures - you may have to experiment to find the perfect location in your home.

You'll know when it's done; it will look, smell and taste like yoghurt - pop it into the fridge the stop it "cooking".

Of course, as you use the yoghurt you'll know when it's time to make the next batch - cultures aren't killed in the fridge so you can use your own yoghurt in a never ending cycle.

Now, isn't that easy?

See Also:- Naan Bread Recipe