Soda Bread

soda bread //

Hello from China! We’re in Shangri-La at the moment, up in the mountains near the Tibetan border. Its incredibly beautiful, but absolutely freezing. I’m wearing 7 layers of clothes, and my fingers are still freezing as I type. I don’t know how i’m going to cope when we hit Mongolia and Russia!

There’s one thing we really miss when we’re travelling this part of the world, and that’s good bread. Back in Hong Kong we did ok. In general the bread is sweet and soft, but in the expat populated areas you find bakeries and cafes selling delicious fresh loaves of bread. Out here in China, however, this sadly isn’t the case. Travelling through a former French colonies of South East Asia we were lucky and tucked into delicious crusty baguettes, a legacy of the former empire. Here though, sliced, sweet white bread is about as good as it gets. Every morning hostel breakfasts run along a similar lines; two eggs, omletted or fried, and a slice of this bread, claiming to be toasted but really just warmed up a bit. Finding somewhere that makes their own fresh bread is like finding the Holy Grail.

I usually avoid bread choices, opting for porridge, steaming bowls of noodles or fluffy buns cooked road-side, stacked high in metal towers.However good the noodles though, I still find myself craving a decent loaf. Soda bread is my most recent bread love. Just before we left Hong Kong I made so many of these loaves in an attempt to use up all the flour I’d been hoarding. I think I must have some subconscious fear of being without flour, I had bags and bags sat on my shelves. Does anyone else do that?

soda bread //

 Soda bread uses bicarbonate of soda, rather than yeast, as its leavening agent. This means no proofing is needed, the bread goes from flour to loaf in only 30 minutes. Perfect for those emergency bread situations when only fresh bread will do. You stir together the flours, add in salt and bicarbonate, stir in the buttermilk and knead into a rough ball and put into a hot oven. I always substitute buttermilk for milk mixed with a teaspoon of vinegar about five minutes before I need it. It’s cheaper than buying buttermilk, far easier to find in the shops, and works just as well.

 The texture is a little different to a yeasted loaf, slightly thicker and heavier, yet not at all doughy. The crust is my favourite part. It’s beautifully thick and crunchy, and absolutely perfect fresh out of the oven slathered in salted butter. The smell that will fill your house as this bakes is incredible. You’ll find it so very hard to resist ripping into the loaf as soon as its out of the oven; I never can. Its dense texture makes it wonderful dunked in soup, it holds onto all the flavour without falling apart.

soda bread //

My friend Finn will tell me this isn’t proper soda bread at all, that proper soda bread should be made solely with white flour, that it should be cut into thick, hearty triangles, smothered with butter and filled with bacon the morning after a few too many glasses of wine. If you’d rather have a white loaf, simply substitue the wholemeal flour for an equal amount of white flour.

Soda Bread

(adapted from James Martin)


(Makes 1 loaf, serving 4 – 6 people)

170g strong wholemeal flour

170g plain white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

290ml buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180 fan / 400F.

Weigh the flours, bicarbonate and salt into a large bowl.

Make a well in the centre and stir in the buttermilk. Mix with a wooden spoon until starting together, then continue with your hands until you have a slightly sticky, but not wet, dough. If the dough won’t come together, add a little milk until it does. I used about a tablespoon.

Turn onto a floured surface and briefly knead until the dough has all come together in a  smoothish ball.

Shape into a round and place onto a baking tray.

Slash across vertically and horizontally with a knife.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden, and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

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Triple Chocolate Cupcakes { for International Chocolate Week}

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes //

I did have a blackberry and almond crumble slice lined up for you today. It was absolutly perfect for the last of the season’s blackberries, or to make use of the ones you’ve stashed away in the freezer, but i’m very sorry to say i’ve gone and lost the recipe. Most of my recipes get scribbled down in a little blue notebook. It comes into the kitchen with me, and ingredients and amounts are noted down as I bake. If a recipe needs a rethink or a tweak, the alterations are written in, along with any important notes. The pages are splattered with chocolate and coffee, and covered in buttery smears. It frequently get wet and needs drying out. Its the best way to know where my recipes are though. I’ve brought it with me on my travels. For some reason I can’t understand my crumble just isn’t in there. I can’t imagine where I put the recipe. Sadly probably on a scrap of paper that ended up in the bin when we packed up the Hong Kong house.

Luckily, Kirsten from The Pink Rose Bakery, alerted me to the very important fact that this week is International Chocolate Week, so to make up for the lack of a fruity crumble, i’ve got some seriously chocolatly cupcakes for you instead!

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes //

Its probably clear from a flick through my recipes, that chocolate is probably my favourite baking ingredient. If you asked me to make you a cake its more than likely to feature chocolate. I do try to vary my baking, branch out to a wider range of flavours, but somehow chocolate always seems to sneak its way back in there.

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes //

These cakes feature not one, but three types of chocolate. Chocolate sponge is filled with generous chunks of white and milk chocolate. They’re topped with a rich and smooth dark chocolate ganache. To add to the chocolate theme even further i’ve decorated them simply with a grating of white chocolate.

I made these  a while ago for the birthday a chocoholic friend (someone who would live off chocolate milk, coco pops and chocolate bars if you let him!) and they went down a treat.

I used almond extract in the cupcakes, giving them a chocolate marzipan taste. If you don’t fancy almond, however, feel free to substitute with vanilla extract as indicated in the recipe.

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes //

I hope you enjoy celebrating International Chocolate Week!

Chocolate week logo

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

(makes 6)

for the cupcakes

70g butter

70g caster sugar

1 egg

70g self raising flour

15 cocoa powder, sifted

100ml double cream (feel free to substitute with an equal quantity of milk) 

1 teaspoon almond extract OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

50g white chocolate

50g milk chocolate

for the ganache

100g dark chocolate

50g milk chocolate

120ml single cream

A few squares of white chocolate to decorate, optional


Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160 fan/ 350F.

Line a cupcake tin with 6 paper cases.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in the egg, then fold in the flour and cocoa powder. Next, fold through the double cream (or milk if you are using).

Roughly chop your white and milk chocolate into large chunks. I use a heavy knife and a chopping board. Fold the chunks through the mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 6 paper cases.

Put into the centre of the preheated oven, and bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and firm to the touch.

Place on a wire rack and cool completely.

While the cakes cool, make your ganache.

Break the chocolate into small chunks and place them into a heat proof bowl.

In a small saucepan, gently heat your cream until just at boiling point, don’t let it boil. Remove it from the heat, allow to stand for about 30 seconds, then pour over the chocolate. Quickly stir until all the chocolate has melted and you have a  thick, smooth sauce. Cool completely until the ganache is a spreadable consistency.

Using a spoon or a palette knife, spread ganache over your cupcakes. Finish with a grating of white chocolate.