Terah Ames woke up bright and early last Saturday – 6:30 a.m. – to make three loaves of Irish soda bread. She mixed and kneaded; the loaves baked and cooled. Then Ames got in the car to drive the roughly 22 miles from her home in Hollis to the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland, which was holding its first ever Irish Soda Bread Contest that afternoon. There, judges (including me) tasted 23 breads (including hers) in three categories, drank a lot of tea and debated the finer points of crust and crumb. Ames, clearly, understood those, as she took first place in two of the three categories – White and Brown soda bread; “brown” is how the British refer to whole-wheat flour.

Her soda bread-making secrets? “Patience – don’t take it out of the oven too early,” Ames said. “And don’t over-knead it. Be very gentle to it.”

Ames surprised herself by her double win. Although she has Irish blood, she said she didn’t grow up baking soda bread and figured her competition would be lots of “grandma” recipes, which she expected to best hers. Her own soda bread-baking career started with a cookbook she brought home from a 1999 trip to Ireland. Ames’ third loaf, in the catch-all “Family” category, did not win, although she says that is actually the recipe she bakes most often. “It will clearly need more work for next year,” she said, laughing.

The first place award winner in the Family category was Norine Burns of Kennebunkport.

— PEGGY GRODINSKY

Terah Ames’ White Soda Bread

Bread made from this recipe took first place at an Irish soda bread contest last week at the Maine Irish Heritage Center.

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup castor/superfine sugar

2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9-x-5-inch round cake pan or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Stir gently until it makes a soft dough.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan (flour your hands first to prevent sticking) and shape a round loaf. Slice a cross on the top of dough with a knife.

Bake until the bread is golden brown on the outside and a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the loaf comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Slice after the loaf has cooled slightly.