Recipe: Carolyn Robb's soda bread

Former chef to the royal family shares a recipe for a very easy and delicious loaf

Carolyn Robb, born and raised in SA, began to cook as soon as she could firmly grip a wooden spoon in her tiny hand and was able to read enough words to decipher a recipe.
Inspired by her mother, a wonderful cook, the little girl had her sights set on cooking for Queen Elizabeth one day.
And that is what she did, in a way, as she later became personal chef to the Prince and Princess of Wales, where she cooked for Charles, Diana and their two sons William and Harry.
Carolyn now lives in Wallingford, a 900-year-old town on the river Thames, and recently completed filming four episodes of the second series of the show Royal Recipes which is due to start broadcasting on ITV Choice on Monday, November 5 at 6.10pm.
This will run weekdays at the same time for two weeks as part of the channel's mini-Royal Festival running in November to celebrate Prince Charles’s 70th birthday.
This recipe for soda bread is Carolyn's favourite bread recipe and she says Prince Charles loves it too.
“It is simple, wholesome and quick to make. The only thing to be careful of is over-mixing the dough.”
Unlike other breads which require kneading to make them lighter, this requires as little handling a possible for a light texture.
“Don’t be alarmed if, a few hours after baking, you notice that any pine nuts or sunflower seeds in the bread have turned bright green,” she says.
“This is just caused by a reaction between the antioxidants in the seeds and the bicarbonate of soda and it is nothing to worry about.”
It makes one round loaf about 23cm in diameter and you will need one flat baking sheet, at least 23cm wide.
INGREDIENTS 25g nutty wheat or brown bread flour
225g plain flour
10ml (2 tsp) bicarbonate of soda
5ml (1 tsp) salt
30g butter at room temperature (and a little extra for greasing the baking sheet)
250ml milk
250ml plain yoghurt
25ml (2 Tbsp) malt extract (available from Dischem)
Seeds to sprinkle on top (Carolyn uses sesame and linseed) METHOD
Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease baking sheet with butter.
Sift plain flour, bicarbonate and salt into the largest mixing bowl you have. Add the malted granary flour and mix in. Rub butter into the dry ingredients, using fingertips. Whisk together milk, yoghurt and malt extract.
Make a well in centre of the dry ingredients and pour in milk mixture. Now you need to work as quickly and lightly as possible.
With a round bladed knife work the liquid into the flour and then with the hands blend the ingredients together. As soon as you have a dough that is soft (and still sticky) tip it onto a lightly floured surface.
Shape into a round of about 20cm diameter and about 3-4cm thick, without actually kneading it. The less it is handled the lighter the bread will be.
Lift onto the baking sheet, re-shaping if necessary. Cut a deep cross in the top and sprinkle with seeds. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until bread is golden.
To check if it is cooked, tap it on the bottom – it will sound hollow when ready.
Cool on a wire rack. For a crisp crust leave the bread uncovered. For a soft crust wrap in a slightly damp tea-towel.
This is best served very fresh from the oven while still warm. Traditionally it is broken into quarters and then sliced.
Add a handful of chopped fresh herbs of your choice; parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary and sage all work well.
For a sweet version add a handful of chopped plump dried figs or dates and a few pecans. Sprinkle the top with a little cinnamon sugar instead of seeds.

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