Soda bread may have become quite popular outside of Ireland, but I’ve never seen treacle soda anywhere else. This dark sticky soda bread was sold as farls when I was a child, especially around Hallowe’en and bright chilly autumn days. The earthy sweetness of the treacle works beautifully with the slightly sharp taste of the bicarbonate of soda to create something as warm and mellow as you feel when kicking your way through a pile of autumnal leaves.
When making treacle soda, I prefer to bake it as a loaf rather than make flat farls on the stove as the dough is quite sticky and hard to roll out. If you are a better scone maker than me (which is barely a challenge) then try the treacle and ginger in your scones if you’d like something smaller and afternoon tea appropriate than slices of still warm bread, slathered in butter and eaten at 4 o’clock when the day feels endless and dinner a million miles away.
Treacle and Ginger Soda Bread
- 500g plain flour
- 1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 3 packed tablespoons brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons black treacle
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 200ml buttermilk
- 50ml Guinness or stout (optional)
- drop of gravy browning
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add in the bicarbonate of soda, ginger and sugar and stir through well to mix evenly.
Then make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add in the treacle. If you prefer you can measure out 90mls of treacle, but I find it easier to do each tablespoon one at a time, dipping the spoon into a mug of boiling water in between to help the treacle slide off more easily. I add the drop of gravy browning about now.
Add in 200ml of the buttermilk. You need the acidity of buttermilk or watered down yoghurt to activate the bicarbonate of soda which allows the bread to rise, rather than remain a solid brick of flour. If you only have milk, sour it slightly with some lemon juice and allow to sit for about 10 minutes. Add the Guinness if using or use 50mls more buttermilk so that either way you have 250mls liquid.
Using your hand like a claw, start to bring the ingredients together. If the dough looks dry, add 25mls or so more of the buttermilk at a time. I don’t usually need more as the treacle is sticky. The dough some start to come together, although looking a little bit ragged. Many recipes suggest warming the treacle in with the buttermilk to mix this in, but I find I don’t get a good crumb on the bread that that way and prefer this way.
Lift the dough out onto a floured work top and knead lightly for about a minute until the dough looks smooth and not sticky. Shape into a loaf and place on a baking tray. Shape a cross into the top of the loaf to allow the loaf to cook evenly and as legend has it, the fairies to come out. Bake at 220ºC for 15 minutes and then turn it down to 200ºC and bake for another 40 minutes or until the loaf is hollow when tapped.
Cool on a wire rack, wrapping it in a tea towel to soften the crust slightly and then serve in slices, slathered with good Irish salted butter. A cup of strong tea doesn’t go amiss either. The soda bread is sweet and a lovely change from plain soda bread and perfect for this time of year. You could chop some dried apple through the dough as well if you like it a little sweeter. Treacle soda was a real treat when I was a child and I will always love its simple charms.