Whole Wheaten Soda Bread with cross in the top.

Wheaten Soda Bread

Wheaten Soda Bread is a simple, delicious, yeast free bread. It gets its name because it is leavened with baking soda instead of yeast. It is also known as brown soda bread or wholemeal soda bread.

My Irish grandmother made her soda bread using traditional buttermilk ie: the liquid left over when making butter. As this traditional buttermilk is not readily available nowadays I use my cultured buttermilk (recipe below) in her soda bread recipe.

I use a cast iron casserole pan (2 litres or 2.7 litres size) to bake my soda bread as it gives a softer crust and moister crumb. See my section on equipment needed for more details. I also use the same casserole pan for making sour dough bread.

Using Cultured Buttermilk in Wheaten Soda Bread Recipe

Making a cultured buttermilk is a very simple process. You can obtain dried buttermilk culture online – I use Freshly Fermented’s Organic Cultured Buttermilk Starter and find my simple method works well using this. I also use this buttermilk as my liquid for making my scones.

Buttermilk Alternatives

If you are making your buttermilk for the first time then it will take 24 – 48 hours until it thickens and is ready to use – see instructions in the recipe card. However, if you don’t have any buttermilk there are some alternatives you can use, such as sour milk, full fat natural yoghurt, soured cream, kefir, cream of tartar or milk with added lemon juice.

Equipment you will need to make Wheaten Soda Bread

Apart from the usual kitchen items and tools you will need a cast iron casserole pan – the one I used for this recipe was approximately 20cm in diameter / 2 litre / 2 kilograms. I do also sometimes use a larger 2.7 litre casserole pan for my soda bread as well. If you only have a larger 2.7 litre pan then you can still use this to make this wheaten soda bread recipe, it will just fill up less of the pan.

The reason I like to use a casserole pan to make my bread is that it is closer to the original Irish way of cooking soda bread. My great grandmother made her bread on an open fire using a bastible – a large cast iron pot which could be suspended or set to stand over the fire. Heat could also be provided by adding embers to the top. The image below is taken from the Irish American Mom website, which also includes an interesting account of how the author’s granny used a bastible until the 1960s.

A bastible pot suspended over an open turf fire in a room in a house in Ireland.

If you don’t have a casserole pan you can bake soda bread on a floured baking tray – see the recipe card directions for the details – I have included an extra optional step.

Wheaten Soda Bread

Recipe by Scones Plus More Cuisine: IrelandDifficulty: Easy
Prep time

10

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

Ingredients

  • For the Buttermilk
  • 1 sachet dried buttermilk culture

  • 1 litre full cream milk

  • For the Soda Bread
  • 1 pound / 450 grams wholemeal flour

  • 8 ounces / 225 grams plain white flour

  • 1 teaspoon of salt

  • 1 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

  • ¾ pint buttermilk (approx)

Directions

  • For the Buttermilk
  • Stir the sachet of dried buttermilk culture into the milk which should be at room temperature – approx 20 – 24°C – and pour mixture into a jar or jug and cover.
  • Stand in a warm place for 12 – 48 hours until it thickens. It usually takes about 24 hours.
  • Once thickened store in refrigerator.
  • You will now have a continuous supply of buttermilk.
  • To make more you simply add ¼ cup of your buttermilk to 1 litre of fresh milk and allow to stand until thickened as before.
  • For the Soda Bread
  • Mix the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda together.
  • Stir in the buttermilk to make a soft dough using a little more if necessary.
  • Turn out onto a floured working surface and shape into a round.
  • Grease your casserole dish and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  • Drop the dough into the casserole and smooth the top. The tradition is to now cut a deep cross in the dough.
  • Put a lid on the casserole and bake in a pre-heated oven 200°C (180°C Fan) / 400°F / Gas Mark 6 for 1 hour.
  • Turn cooked bread out of casserole and wrap in tea towel and allow to cool for at least 4 hours before slicing.
  • If you prefer to cook your bread in a different way – without the casserole, shape it into a round about ½ inch / 4 cm thick and place on a greased and floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the top. Bake for 25 minutes at 220°C (200°C Fan) / 425°F / Gas Mark 7 then reduce temperature to 180°C (160°C Fan) / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 and bake for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove bread from baking tray and cool wrapped in a tea towel as before. Allow at least 4 hours before slicing.

    What is Buttermilk?

    Buttermilk is the product left over after butter churning. In the past many families in Ireland had a milk cow so would make their own butter. They of course put the excess buttermilk to good use.

    The production of butter eventually became a commercial concern and as a result so did the production of buttermilk. Nowadays it is made by adding a bacterial culture to milk. As mentioned above I use Freshly Fermented’s Organic Cultured Buttermilk Starter to make my buttermilk.

    Serving Wheaten Soda Bread

    Wheaten Soda Bread and soda breads in general, like all other breads are best served fresh. Soda breads in particular are best eaten on the day. I also often cut my soda bread in four, following the cross cut in the top, and then freeze the quarters wrapped in foil or cling film. If you don’t eat all of the loaf or freeze the bread on the day, soda bread is very nice toasted with generous portions of butter the following day.

    This Wheaten Soda Bread recipe is a very simple basic wholemeal bread but there are many different types of soda bread, both brown and white soda bread. They are quick to make and make a very pleasant change from yeasted breads.

    A Modern Variation of Wheaten Soda Bread

    Seeded Wheaten Soda Bread

    Try this seeded wheaten soda bread as a modern alternative to the traditional version. Just add 2 tablespoons of seeds eg: pumpkin, sunflower or sesame to this wheaten soda bread recipe before you add the buttermilk or sour milk. Of course it’s well worth trying this in my White Soda Bread recipe too. In fact, experimenting with soda bread variations and different ingredients really is the key to enjoying the whole process of baking soda bread!

    Happy Baking!

    Tanya

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