Spotted Dog: a great alternative for a festive showstopper

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It is an Irish favourite I often bake and which is very quick and simple for anyone to make at home. The basic recipe can be turned into many sweet and savoury variations – chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, cubes of crispy bacon, cheese, herbs . . . the possibilities are endless. The deep cross in the loaf is supposed to let out the fairies – so that the bread won’t be jinxed by evil spirits! In reality (very boring reason) it’s just to allow the heat to penetrate the loaf as it’s cooking. I opt for the version with the fairies…

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Ingredients

450g plain flour
1 level tsp caster sugar
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
400ml buttermilk or sour milk or kefir
1 egg, beaten
100g sultanas, raisins or currants, or a mixture of all three

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Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C, Gas mark 7. Sift the dry ingredients, including the raisins into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 50 ml oz in the measuring jug). Using one hand with fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be fairly soft, but not too wet and sticky. When it comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm deep and cut a deep cross in it. Place on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200°C, Gas mark 6 and cook for 30 minutes more. When cooked, the loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the base and be golden in colour. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

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