Quick, simple soda bread – on the table in less than an hour
Like a lot of little girls, between the ages of about four and fourteen I was obsessed with horses and ponies. Posters lined every inch of my bedroom wall (and the bathroom next door), I had a small, but treasured collection of Julip horses (complete with their own stable and jumps) and every year when my birthday came round I’d hope against hope that I’d open up the curtains to find a pony tethered to the gate-post outside (this never, sadly, never happened).
Each slice is full of the flavours of feta & thyme
Quite aside from the financial implications of owning a pony, growing up in London presented a pretty major obstacle to my childhood dream. But while my parents never bought me a four-legged friend, I did eventually manage to convince them to take us on a family riding holiday in Ireland. Staying in the lodge of an ancient country estate, we spent a full five days careering round the Irish countryside come wind, rain or shine (ok, pretty much only the former two, it being Ireland), covering everything in mud and tiring ourselves out before returning to a hearty home-cooked meal and cosy evenings by the fire.
Just five ingredients make up this lovely breakfast loaf
An army marches on its stomach and we applied much the same principle to this holiday, tucking into enormous meals as our appetites increased over the course of the week. I can’t remember a huge amount about the food (other than it being a huge amount), but one thing that did stick in my memory was the homemade soda bread. Dense and dark and slightly sweet, it arrived at breakfast, lunch and dinner sliced into thick slabs and spread with generous amounts of creamy Irish butter, the answer to appetites of any size and a flavour I’ll always associate with Ireland.
Fast forward several years and I decided to make my own. Carnivorous Fiancé had asked if I could make him some soda bread and after researching several recipes, I decided to make this savoury feta and thyme version. I wanted something slightly lighter and brighter than that original Irish loaf so haven’t included black treacle here, but this recipe is infinitely adaptable – add treacle or molasses for a rich, dark sweetness, stir in raisins, nuts or seeds, add another sort of cheese or vary your flour and liquid base.
I used yoghurt for this loaf but you could also use buttermilk for a richer crumb
Soda bread is traditionally made with buttermilk, but having been reliably assured by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (by way of the Channel Four website, not personally) that I could substitute the natural Greek yoghurt I had to hand, I added it to the mix and twenty minutes later a perfect loaf of bread emerged from the oven. Five ingredients, less than five minutes mixing and another twenty in the oven and this loaf is yours. It’s not quite what you’d call a fifteen minute meal (although give me a pat of butter and I’d be more than happy to make it one) but it’s an easy recipe and perfect if you’ve never made bread before as it doesn’t involve any kneading.
Eat this bread fresh from the oven as it is. Denser than a normal loaf it also makes amazing toast, drizzled with olive oil or smeared with butter. And if you want the perfect base for scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, look no further. But my top tip? Drizzle a little honey over a slice – it works wonders with the herby notes and salty feta and is probably one of the best things I’ve eaten all week.
Despite no yeast this bread is surprisingly light
Feta & Thyme Soda Bread (adapted from The Fabulous Baker Brothers)
(makes one small loaf)
300g wholemeal bread flour
Big pinch sea salt
2 tsp baking powder
100g feta cheese crumbled
Small handful thyme leaves, picked
230ml full fat natural yoghurt
Flour, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 230 degrees C and place a baking stone or tray in to heat up.
In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the yoghurt and using a dough scraper (if you don’t have one, your hands will do), mix together for about two minutes until just combined.
Flour your hands and the work surface, tip out your sticky dough and shape it into a round. Place directly onto your baking stone (or tray) and cut a deep cross in the top of the dough.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the crust is golden and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing and eating.
This loaf is particularly delicious toasted. The feta and thyme also taste wonderful if you add a slick of golden honey: the perfect combination of herby, salty and sweet.