Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sourdough Irish Soda Bread with Spelt

St. Patrick’s Day is over so why am I posting about Irish Soda Bread?

Sourdough Irish Soda Bread with Spelt

For starters, who said you could only enjoy soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day? And secondly, this bread is not your normal soda bread. Traditional soda bread is made with flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. This one is leavened with sourdough instead of baking soda, although you can use a bit of soda to mute the sourdough tang if desired.

I’ve always liked Ireland and pretty much all things Irish, particularly Irish music, but I must admit, I was not a big fan of soda bread. That is, until I visited Ireland last year and tasted some soda bread with Guinness Beef Stew. I enjoyed that meal a lot. I’ll be honest, it was the stew that I really enjoyed, but the experience gave me an appreciation for soda bread.

When the Sourdough Surprises Baking Group decided to make sourdough soda bread, I thought, “this is going to be interesting.” We had made sourdough quick breads in a previous challenge so I knew it would work. I just wasn’t sure if I would like it.

I started my experiment with the Irish Soda Bread we made in the Artisan Bread Bakers FB Group a couple of years ago. I actually liked that version as well. Okay so maybe I do like soda bread; however, not all soda bread is equal.

This version utilizes sourdough instead of baking soda. I changed the recipe up even more by substituting all-purpose spelt for the regular all-purpose flour and added in some whole grain spelt flour for good measure.

I made two loaves and baked them at different times. I’m so glad I baked the loaves at different times because I had to throw out the first loaf. I forgot the salt.

I should have performed the taste test to make sure I had added the salt. Tasting the dough while mixing is something I read in Lionel Vatinet’s book A Passion for Bread. I remember chuckling when I read his quick mixing tips. The third tip is “always taste the dough to be sure salt has been added.”

How many times have I gotten distracted and forgotten the salt?  One too many I’m afraid. In fact, the weekend I made this bread, there was a discussion on Facebook about this very thing. Not about leaving salt out per se, but about getting distracted and omitting an ingredient. It happens to the best of us so I can understand why Lionel Vatinet pays special attention to it. Salt is a very important ingredient. It retards yeast activity, contributes to crust color, and helps flavor the baked bread.


Because I forgot to add the salt, the bread didn’t rise very well and it was gooey on the inside. I inserted a skewer into the loaf while it was baking to test for doneness and noticed it wasn’t done. I let it continue baking until it was baked through. 

When I took it out of the oven, it smelled really good (due to the sourdough) so I had to try it right away. I was so disappointed. It tasted blah. I kept thinking and thinking but I couldn’t remember if I added the salt. Most likely because I didn’t.

Fortunately, I was able to fix the problem for the second loaf. I tasted the dough this time and it was salt less. So I added the salt on top of the dough and a little extra water and kneaded it until the dough wasn’t grainy anymore.

I tasted the dough again and this time, it tasted just fine. I baked the loaf and it turned out great. It doesn’t taste like your average soda bread and that’s fine by me.


Sourdough Soda Bread with Spelt

Sourdough Irish Soda Bread with Spelt

Adapted from Jeff Smith, aka The Frugal Gourmet

Makes: 2 Round Loaves 

  • 2 cups sourdough starter, recently fed
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose white spelt flour 
  • 1 cup wholegrain spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, optional
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the sourdough starter in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients (don’t forget the salt) and mix thoroughly. Pour in the buttermilk and stir, using a wooden spoon, just till a soft dough is formed. 

Transfer the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter and knead for a minute or so till everything comes together.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to ferment overnight.


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The next day when you’re ready to bake, divide the dough into two portions and shape each into a round loaf, pressing the top down a bit to just barely flatten it. Place the loaves on a large ungreased baking sheet or in a round baker. I used a ceramic baking dish. The first loaf stuck to the dish so I lined it with parchment paper for the second loaf.

Sprinkle the top of the loaf with additional flour. Using a sharp knife, or scissors, make the sign of a cross in slashes on the top of the loaf.


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Allow the loaves to rest for 10 minutes and then bake on the middle rack for 40 minutes or till the loaves are golden brown and done to taste.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing or serving.


sourdough-soda-bread_407 Sliced Sourdough Irish Soda Bread


Soda breads generally don’t have very good keeping quality so you need to enjoy them right away. Adding sourdough to the bread extends the shelf life.  This version lasted for several days before going stale.

Happy Baking!




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