We bake this bread every day at the cookery school, and it is very quick and simple to make at home too. This is the basic recipe but there are so many sweet and savoury variations that you can try – chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, cubes of crispy bacon, cheese, herbs . . . the possibilities are endless.
The deep cross in the loaf (see step 3) is supposed to let out the fairies – so that the bread won’t be jinxed by evil spirits! In reality, of course, it’s just to allow the heat to penetrate the loaf as it’s cooking. Makes 1 loaf.
Preheat the oven to 230°C (425°F), Gas mark 8.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml/2fl oz in the measuring jug). Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.
When it comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (11/2in) deep and cut a deep cross in it.
Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6 and cook for 30 minutes more. When cooked, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour. I often turn it upside down for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
White soda scones: Make the dough as above but flattened into a round approximately 2.5cm (1in) deep. Cut into scones and cook for 15–20 minutes at 230°C (450°F), Gas mark 8.
White soda bread or scones with herbs: Add 2–3 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs – such as rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, parsley or lemon balm – to the dry ingredients, and make as above.
Spotted dog: Add 100g (31/2oz) sultanas, raisins or currants, or a mixture of all three, to the dry ingredients, and make as above.