James St Cookery School: There's nothing quite like baking bread to ease your mind

Soda bread from James St Cookery School – traditionally cooked on a griddle pan but an ordinary frying pan will do the trick too
Niall McKenna

A QUICK look at social media will show just how important cooking is at a time like this.

Whether you’re cooking to feed the household or as an activity to kill some time, I find it one of the best ways to relax and ease my mind.

I’ve always loved the taste and smell of freshly baked homemade bread, and now that it’s quickly flying off the shelves there couldn’t be a better time to scrub up on your baking skills. Try these for a healthier, tastier option than your standard loaf.


(Makes one loaf)

300ml of tepid water

3 teaspoons of fresh yeast

500g of Italian-type ‘00’ strong flour (plus extra for rolling and dusting)

1 teaspoon of fine salt

4 tablespoons of olive oil (plus extra for greasing)

Glug of extra virgin olive oil

15g of coarse sea salt flakes

1 red onion, thinly sliced


Mix the tepid water and yeast in a small bowl until dissolved. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a small well in the centre. Pour in half of the mixed liquid and olive oil then mix together. When it starts to come together, add in the remaining liquid to form a sticky dough.

Take some of the extra flour and spread on a clean surface. Knead for roughly 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic – use extra flour when necessary to prevent stickiness.

Oil a bowl and set the dough in, then oil some cling film and cover the bowl. Leave this in a warm place for up to 90 minutes to allow to rise until it has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, add some oil to a pan caramelise the red onions. Once cooked until soft, remove from heat and leave to the side.

When the dough has risen, knock out the air with your fist while it’s still in the bowl and leave for 15-20 minutes, covering the bowl in cling film again.

Place your dough on a tray greased with olive oil. Using your finger, gently prong the dough evenly and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over. Scatter with sea salt flakes and the caramelised red onions.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180Cfor 25-35 minutes until crusty and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Place on cooling tray and serve while still warm.


(Serves 4)

250g of Plain Flour (plus extra for kneading)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

250ml of buttermilk


Set a griddle or frying pan on a low to medium heat. Place the flour and salt into a large bowl; sieve in the bicarbonate of soda. Make a well in the centre, pour in the buttermilk and quickly work the ingredients together into a sticky dough. Don’t over work it. Spread some flour on a clean surface and knead the dough, adding flour if necessary.

Flatten out the dough until it is approximately 1cm in thickness, then use a floured pallete knife to cut into quarters. Dust the frying pan with some more flour and cook the sodas for 6-8 minutes on each side until golden. Turn off the heat and leave the sodas to settle for around 10 minutes before serving.

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