A WISER baker than me once told me that everyone who bakes or cooks should know how to make soda bread, in however limited a way.

He's right.

There is no denying the satisfaction of a loaf that can be in the oven in less time than it takes to brew a pot of tea, and is ready to eat by the time you've hung the washing out.

I was astonished the first time I saw soda bread being made, having no need for proving or kneading.

The simplicity of these chemically-raised breads made them ever more popular today throughout the British Isles, but more so in rural Ireland, where available equipment tended to run to a pot oven and peat fire.

Ireland remains the heartland of soda bread today. Filling and wholesome, it pops up at almost every meal, and is so universal that most the common wholemeal version is generally known as brown or wheaten bread.

It goes with everything from salty yellow butter to soups, smoked salmon to soft cheese, and creates very little in the way of washing-up. Seriously can you afford not to have a recipe for soda bread in your life?.

Soda bread can be made with white or brown flour, but I must point out that bread flour gives you the best texture to aim for, being moist and crumbly rather than light and airy.

Buttermilk –another important player here and a traditional liquid ingredient used to kick-start the raising process – suits me fine, but milk, plain yoghurt or sour cream can be substituted if need be.

In my experience, one of the things that puts people off soda bread is the bitter tang of manmade chemicals like baking soda and bicarbonate soda. It’s important to get the balance right: just enough to rise the bread, but not enough to taint the flavour.

This is why I tend to use baking power, which less potent in flavour because it’s an alkaline.

When combined in the presence of liquids like buttermilk, they react at once and release carbon dioxide bubbles which are trapped within the soft dough –hence the inclusion of acidic buttermilk, to get the extra lift making a well-risen, soft and tender soda bread.

The dough should always be made in a large mixing bowl and brought together with a feathered hand or wooden spoon, then gently kneaded with a little flour on the tabletop till it just comes together and no more. This is called chaffing in the baking trade - anymore will result in a tough, heavy bread ideal for use as a doorstop.

Feel free to be adventurous with the ingredients and add what you fancy. Season well and bake in a piping hot oven.

Don’t forget to score or slash the cross through the dough with a sharp knife to bless the bread. I can’t quite recall the significance of this – it is something traditional about letting the devil out while the bread is baking according to Irish folktales.