‘This is one of the trickiest challenges we’ve ever had’, said Paul.

Aaaaand that was me out of the show-stopper. I can barely make bread, let alone make a lion’s face out of bread.

Thank god for soda bread, eh? Essentially a free-form, savoury cake. My bet is that I will be one of many people making soda bread this week. I’ll try a show-stopper at some point, promise. Just not when it involves yeast.

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Full disclosure: I did also actually try to make baguettes. I used Master Hollywood’s recipe, and I was really doubtful that it was going to work from the start, hence why I knocked up a soda bread during one prove of the baguette dough as insurance. I’m sure the recipe wasn’t at fault – the problem is that I’m really not set up for bread-making. I mean, let’s take a look, shall we?

  • ‘Lightly oil a 2-3 litre square plastic container…’ – fallen at the first hurdle, don’t have one of those.
  • ‘Put the flour, salt and yeast into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook…’ – oh, how I long for a mixer, but don’t have one of those, let alone with a dough hook.
  • ‘Put each tray inside a clean plastic bag…’ – those dough bags they have on the show look really useful, but I don’t have any of those.
  • ‘Slash each one 3 times along its length on the diagonal, using a razor blade or a very sharp knife…’ – turns out that I have neither a sharp enough knife to slice dough without dragging it, nor a kitchen razor blade.
  • This recipe doesn’t even mention the couche linen to tuck the baguettes up in to prove, but that would have also been really useful if I’d had it, which I didn’t.

I know, I know, a bad baker blames her lack of tools. I am the first to admit that I also don’t know what I am doing, which can’t have helped. I don’t know quite what happened, but although the first prove seemed to go fine, the baguettes actually got smaller on the second prove and collapsed and shrunk into themselves after only half an hour. I mean, I baked them anyway, but they came out more like large breadsticks than baguettes.

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So, here we have soda bread instead. To be clear, I am aware that this looks absolutely horrific. A real mess. But it tasted really good, so I got over the fact that it looked a total state fairly quickly. See that quarter chunk cut out of the loaf in the first photo? I literally ate all of that as soon as I had finished photographing it. I only meant to cut off a little corner to try it, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it I had devoured the lot like a starving wolf.

I took the instructions from the show to heart, you see: soda bread shouldn’t be kneaded too much; it should be crumbly; the texture shouldn’t be like normal bread. Who knew?! (I know, I know, loads of people. But not me). As you can see, my soda bread is pretty damn crumbly, so… success?

Source: Since Alvin’s soda bread was so highly praised, I figured that I couldn’t go too far wrong if I started off with his recipe as a base.

Notes: I made my own pesto for this, because it’s really easy and much more delicious than the stuff in jars. That said, it all gets mixed into the bread dough so it probably doesn’t make a great deal of difference – if you have a jar kicking about, do use that.

The darker bits on top of this bread that look a bit burnt are actually just where I drizzled some pesto over the top of the loaf before cooking and it went dark quickly, but those bits tasted great even though they looked rubbish.

I ate this warm and spread with salted butter and I loved it. I particularly loved how easy it was, and how adaptable. You could pretty much make this with whatever odds you had in the fridge. Bit of meat, bit of cheese, some herbs, and you’re sorted.

Ingredients:

450g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp table salt
40g cold butter, diced
80g prosciutto, torn
200g log of goats’ cheese, cut into disks
100g (or thereabouts) pesto, fresh or from a jar
300ml buttermilk
1 tbsp butter, melted

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking tray with parchment or a mat. In your largest mixing bowl, sieve together your flour, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Rub the butter in with your fingertips – I found that there was so little butter compared to flour that it never got quite to the ‘breadcrumb’ stage, but just keep going until you can’t feel the cold smoothness of the butter between your fingers any more.
  2. Reserve a couple of chunks of both the prosciutto and the goats cheese for the topping, and then add the remaining prosciutto and goats cheese to the flour mix, along with all the pesto. Give it a mix to disperse it.
  3. Mix your buttermilk with 25ml of water to thin it slightly, then make a well in your flour mix and add 3/4 of the buttermilk. Stir the mixture with a butter knife until it comes together into a shaggy, slightly sticky dough. Add more buttermilk if it feels dry and won’t hold together.
  4. Tip your dough out onto your baking sheet and shape it into a round-ish loaf. Dust it with flour and score the top in a cross shape deeply with a sharp knife – I found a bread knife best for this. Pop your remaining prosciutto and goats’ cheese on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes. When it’s done, put it on a wire rack and brush with melted butter.

The original recipe tells you to let it cool before eating it, but I thought it was best warm. Plus I am impatient and greedy, so…