Michael Power, the baker for Anne Sutton at her bakery in New Ross, Co. Wexford, was baking large squares of tender salty/sweet soda bread in a frame, so that each blob of batter soft dough would spread and be forced upward.
This made sense as it meant that the crumb would stay tender and moist rather than dry, and shape of the loaf was useful rather than ornamental. I have adapted his recipe and added a trick of my own from cake baking stop it peaking in the middle.
Covered with a sheet of foil for half of the baking time, the loaf wont initially develop a upper crust, allowing it to rise evenly. Then, after 25 minutes, the foil is removed and the upper crust finally bakes to a golden brown with an even dome.
300g soft wholewheat flour
50g fine oatmeal
20g lard, dripping or butter
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp castor sugar
200g buttermilk or yoghurt
200g whole milk
a few tablespoons of oat bran
Preheat the oven to 210C. Grease a 17cm x 17cm square deep cake tin and dust it liberally with flour. Tear a sheet of aluminium foil that will cover the top of the tin, and leave to one side. Into a large bowl weigh the flour, then rub in the lard until the lumps disappear and the fat is evenly dispersed. Add the bicarbonate of soda and the salt, and toss this through with your fingers.
In another bowl weigh the buttermilk and milk, then stir this through the flour until you have a thick paste-like dough. Scrape well down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the dry ingredients are mixed quickly and evenly through the buttermilk. Sprinkle a little oatbran on to the base of the greased and floured tin, then scrape the dough into the tin and sprinkle more oatbran on the top. Pat the dough down lightly so that it sits in an even layer. Then cover the top of the tin with foil.
Bake in a preheated 210C oven for 25 minutes, then remove the foil from the top and bake for a further 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for a minute, then tip out onto a wire cooling rack. Wrap when cool in waxed paper, or freeze in a sealed container.
Reproduced by kind permission of Dan Lepard from his book, “The Handmade Loaf”, published by Mitchell Beazley, ISBN: 1840009667