This is the traditional Irish fruit bread, also called Sweet Cake, Curnie Cake, Spotted Dick or Railway Cake depending on the area.
4 cup plain white flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup raisins, currants or sultanas
1 1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk)
Sift the dry ingredients, add the fruit and mix well.
Make a well in the center and add the egg if you are using it, and most of the buttermilk. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary - you may not need it all. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board and knead lightly for a few seconds - just enough to tidy it up.
Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches deep and cut a deep cross in it (to let the faeries out!). Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread.
Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom: it will soundhollow when cooked.
Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and spread with butter.