Regular readers will know that I made a brief but nostalgic foray to my old stamping grounds in Ireland recently and came home with an enormous piece of smoked salmon and a yen for wheaten bread.
There seems to be some debate in Ireland as to whether or not wheaten bread is just another name for brown soda bread – if anyone can enlighten me as to the difference I’d be delighted to hear from you. For safety’s sake I’m describing this version simply as soda bread as I don’t want to incur the wrath of Irish friends and in any case it’s made with half-and-half brown wholemeal and white flour.
Soda bread is meant to be so easy it’s idiot-proof but it took me several goes to come up with an edible loaf, although I’m the first to admit I’m not the world’s greatest bread maker. This version, largely based on one from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, worked for me.
Brown soda bread goes extremely well with smoked salmon but I wanted to add some complementary flavours. This is what I came up with. As a combo it makes a good starter or light lunch and you can make the tapenade and salsa in the time it takes for the bread to cook.
Then just slice the bread, toast it if you like, spread it with a thin smear of tapenade and top it with the smoked salmon and a dollop of salsa. In daintier quantities this would also make a good canape.
Brown Soda Bread
250g wholemeal flour
250g plain white flour (not bread flour)
2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 tspn sea salt, ground
About 400 ml buttermilk + maybe a little milk
A small handful of porridge oats
Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.
Sift the flours and bicarb into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the buttermilk, cutting and mixing with a knife as you go. Add a tablespoon or two of milk if it’s not coming together – you’re aiming for a dough that’s, as Hugh puts it, “just this side of sticky”.
Turn it onto a lightly floured board and knead very briefly to pull it into a loose ball. The buttermilk starts working with the bicarb immediately to give a rise, so you need to get it into the oven as soon as possible.
Put it on a lightly floured baking sheet and form into a circle about 5cm/2″ deep. Cut a deep cross in the middle almost to the base of the loaf, then quickly brush with more buttermilk or milk and sprinkle with porridge oats. If you’re feeling superstitious, you can poke a knife into the side of each quarter to let the fairies out (it’s always best to be on the safe side with the fairies).
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack, although it’s delicious still warm from the oven. Best eaten on the day it’s made, though it will toast well the following day.
This is quite pungent and a little goes a long way. You can leave out the anchovies if you hate them but you may then have to add a little salt, to taste. You can use any good olives but please, not the revolting soapy-tasting ones out of a tin.
110g/4oz black olives (I used Kalamata), pitted
6-8 anchovy fillets, to taste
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 tspn lemon juice or wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Put all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor and whizz, gradually adding the oil as you would for mayonnaise. You should end up with a rough paste, although you can process it to a smoother consistency if you prefer.
It sounds a little weird to mix avocado and celery but it’s the way my sister makes guacamole and it works – the finely chopped celery adds a welcome crunch. If you prefer, you can replace it with half a small red onion.
2 ripe avocados, peeled and cut into small dice
1 stick of celery, trimmed and finely chopped (or use half a small red onion)
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
A few drops of Tabasco or a small pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Put the chopped avocado in a bowl, sprinkle with the lime juice and gently mix through the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.