No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Monday, 13 October 2014


(I was motivated to write this on-line breadmaking course after I had to postpone a planned 2-day workshop(s) in  Castle Cary, in Sept/Oct 2014. The course has been re-scheduled for the last two Sundays in November 2014.

To fill the gap, and to partly make it up to the students I felt I had let down somewhat, I thought I would give the students the opportunity to begin breadmaking before the course.)

The first bread I planned to make in the first session was a plain soda bread loaf.

An all wholemeal loaf, cost; roughly 35p, ready in around 30 minutes. Method and pics below. 
These are two loaves made by the children in my Family Learning session at Halcon Primary School, Taunton back in May this year.
The first was made by Charlotte - and this one by Laura. The initials ensure that everyone can identify their own bread!

The constant theme running through all my teaching is the desire to get over to my students the message that breadmaking is not difficult – it is an easy, everyday activity. And there can be few things easier than making soda bread using self-raising flour.

(In no way can this bread be called Irish soda bread, since this would require – at the very least – the use of buttermilk.)

Nevertheless, both my plain soda bread and an Irish soda bread rely on an acid (calcium phosphate or buttermilk) and an alkali (bicarb of soda) to create the carbon di-oxide (CO2) that raises the bread.

The simplest flour to use for this loaf is self-raising flour (I use a supermarket ‘basic’ brand – there’s no benefit in buying an expensive, heavily advertised brand). And if you want a wholemeal version, wholemeal self-raising flour is widely available.

However, for wholemeal soda bread, I prefer to use bread flour – specifically Dove’s Organic Wholemeal bread flour, which is full of flavour. To turn this into self-raising flour I add baking powder – one and a half teaspoons to a mug of flour. (1 teaspoon to 100g flour.)

This is the soda bread recipe I’ve traditionally given out – but for this online baking course I’m going to fill in some details, and perhaps discover a better way of writing my recipes in the process.

Plain Soda Bread (cost-about 5p for the simplest ingredients)

Before you start you’ll need a baking tray – which you can either oil or line with baking parchment – a mixing bowl, a mug, and an oven turned to 220C (200C for a fan oven).

Now, gather the ingredients – self-raising flour, a little salt, and some cold water. If you want a less crusty loaf, you can also include some olive oil.

Place the mug in the bowl (to catch any spillage)

Use a straight sided mug - any spillage remains in the bowl. (Bowl from Poundland .)
and fill the mug with the flour. Tip the flour into the bowl and add a quarter of a teaspoon of salt.

Measure about 1/3rd of a mug of water (using the same mug) and add that to the flour. If you are using olive oil, pour a good glug on top of the water in the bowl.

Adding the oil straight into the water saves washing up.
(Scales: I’m aware that some of you might prefer to be more precise and weigh the ingredients. In that case, use 200g of flour and 125g [or 125ml – same thing when it comes to water] and 1 tablespoon olive oil - or a good glug.)

The way I teach children to mix is to ask them to make a claw with one hand and hold on to the side of the bowl with the other, then to begin to mix just using the fingertips of the active hand. You can, of course, follow suit, or use a table knife or stiff palette knife. Avoid wooden spoons – bread dough sticks to wood and is difficult to remove. A knife, on the other hand, can be drawn across the side of the bowl and the knife is instantly free of dough.

Sweep your hand around in large circles, concentrating on bringing the flour from the side of the bowl to the middle. Use the knuckles of your hand to scrape the sides of the bowl clean – the middle will look after itself, in the main. Try and get the bowl as clean as possible – it’s much easier for the washer-upper (which might be you! J).

While you’re doing this, keep an eye on the consistency of the dough, to see if it needs more water, or more flour - to achieve a slightly sticky dough, which should be soft and squishy. As a general rule, never be afraid to add more water – the stickier the dough, the better it will rise. However, you need to be able to handle it, so it’s a bit of a balancing act.

Once you’re happy with your dough - some of which will be sticking to your fingers

 – using your clean hand, take out some flour and dribble it over your fingers, then push your fingers of the clean hand through the fingers on the messy hand and push the dough from your fingers into the bowl. You may need to do this for a second time.

Gather the lump of dough in one hand and wipe it round the side of the bowl, pressing down on and picking up any bits as you go. 

Then place the dough on your worktop or table – no need to flour it first – and knead the dough by flattening and folding several times. (If you do feel the dough needs a little more flour, sprinkle some flour in the bowl, turn the dough over in the flour to coat it, then put it back on the worktop.)

Shape the loaf by using the heel of your palm to press down on the edge of the dough, then fold the flattened bit back into the middle. Give your dough a quarter turn and do the same thing again. Repeat several times. As you are doing this, the underneath of the dough will become smoother. Turn the dough over so that the smooth side is on top.

Finish by ‘chafing’ the dough. This involves placing your hands on either side of the dough, palm uppermost. Bring the sides of your hands to the dough, and turn the dough around by drawing your left hand towards you and pushing your right hand away, whilst pressing almost underneath the dough with the sides of your hands. Your knuckles should be touching the worktop. 
Just the right hand on show here - the left hand is taking the pic.
Do this several times and you should see the top of the dough becoming tighter. Once you’re happy with the shape – similar to a cob – place the dough on your prepared baking tray.

Use the back of a knife to cut a cross in the loaf – cutting almost all the way through. This will allow the heat to get to the middle of the soda bread, which is generally a little denser than a yeast-risen loaf.

The baking parchment (baking paper) will go in and out of the oven until it falls apart - so a roll of it  will last forever! The baking tray, once again, came from Poundland.
Now put it straight into the oven – middle shelf – for around 20 minutes, but check after 10 to see if it needs to be turned around or placed on a different shelf to ensure an even bake. Get to know your own oven - it helps to know where the hotspots and cooler parts are.

The loaf is done when a skewer poked through the thickest part of the loaf comes out clean. Other ways to check if the loaf is done is to look at the colour underneath – it should be browning nicely; and to gently break it in half – if it breaks cleanly, it’s done. If there are strings of dough between the two halves, it needs further baking.

Place the loaf on a cooling rack. Wrap it in a tea towel if you would like a softer crust. If you want it even softer, wrap it first in the tea towel, then place it in a plastic bag.
The finished loaf
This loaf should last into a third day, in my experience. However, if I don’t look like finishing the loaf by the second day, I would place it in the freezer. Freezers and bread were made for one another!


  1. Hi Paul

    I'll have to try following this lesson to see how it turns out. I like the idea of using a mug or somesuch to do the measuring as it's nice and easy and I find I tend to adjust the water to flour ratio anyway to get the right consistency.

    I'm not too sure about your chemistry: Sodium bicarbonate is a salt, not an acid and anyway if one adds an acid to an alkali one gets a salt plus water, no CO2. What we have in this case is the action of an acid on a bicarbonate releasing CO2.

    I know what you mean about wooden spoons. When I'm mixing up my sourdough starter I usually use a silicone rubber spatula. For dough mixing I either use my hands or a plastic dough scraper depending on how wet the dough is.

    I also freeze bread but generally whole loaves. I like to arrange things so that I have one loaf in the pantry that I've started on and another in the freezer for when it's needed. This is despite being told that frozen bread goes stale faster than bread which hasn't been frozen. I can't say as I've found that though. I tried freezing the raw dough but I couldn't get that to rise when I defrosted it so I've abandoned that idea.


    1. Hi Mike
      I stand by my chemistry. Bicarb of soda is an alkali, which reacts with an acid (cream of tartar, buttermilk, etc) and produces, in flour, CO2 - which raises the bread. After this I know nothing! :)
      Cheers, Paul