Dutch Oven: Soda Bread Bastible
Creating the soda bread of our ancestors!
In my case, the bread of my mother's great-grandmother who lived in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary when Soda Bread was introduced to Ireland. 100 years later, I was living there.
I'll be the first to admit that creating a 100% exact duplicate of a 19th century soda bread is difficult, if not near impossible. However, after spending about 12 years of my life as a Reenactor creating life during the American 1860s for Living History presentations, I know it's fun to accept the challenge.
Anyone who has baked in different regions of the country knows that temperature and humidity will affect how your baked goods turn out. And then there is the elevation! And the ingredients! Soda Bread is a simple recipe but many variables affect it.
If you are located in a very humid area with moderate temperature and between 200 and 500 ft elevation, you have come close to creating Irish baking conditions for soda bread.
Soda Bread Ingredients:
Ireland produces wheat that is "soft" which makes it ideal for use with baking soda. Today "soft white" (SW) is used in making pastries and other non-bread items.
The irony here is that if you use "bread flour" for Soda "Bread" it doesn't work as well. Pastry flour or Cake Flour is the soft wheat used for Soda Bread. "Bob's Red Mill" is one brand that packages soft wheat for making pastries.
I have been using "Bob's Red Mill" unbleached white pastry flour (soft wheat) in recipes with good success so far. Odlums Irish Flour is also a good choice. Click on the "Irish Breakfast" image at the left to find a source for Irish flour.
The 19th Century Irish used a "Bastible" pot for cooking and in certain areas soda bread was known as "Bastible Cake". If you read the 1836 recipe for soda bread on the opening page, it calls for a "dutch oven" so this is not a modern-day term and using one today certainly takes us one step closer to creating an "authentic" bread.
I use a 4 Qt three legged Dutch Oven (sometimes called Camping Oven if it has legs) to bake soda bread. I have tried using it in a regular oven and over the open fire. The regular oven allows more precise control and makes an excellent soda bread.
The indoor ovens are cheaper and perfect for use in a home oven. If you are using a 19th century fireplace or outdoor charcoal, go for the camp oven.