To you Irish out there, thank you for the rich culture you’ve brought to the world, like Irish Soda Bread for example.
I might have a trickle of Irish blood in my veins, but I doubt it. Even so, on a trip through Ireland, years ago, I felt a kinship with the place and the people. It might have had something to do with the hitchhiking, advised by a village policeman, and short excursions with locals, including a priest, that followed. I foraged for a four-leaf clover and rambled over stone fences to the brink of enormously high and windy cliffs, while my young daughter, at the site of an ancient fortress, hunted in earnest for fairie rings and leprechauns. We ate our share of Irish Soda Bread with marmalade on that trip.
My exposure to baking powder biscuits in my youth instead of soda bread might be another clue to my non-Irishness. My grandmother was expansively engaged in life, and at the heart of a great montage of interests and duties was cooking. Bountiful tables of efficiently prepared delicious food, a noon dinner for family and hired hands every day, and much of it from her own land. She often made Baking Powder biscuits. Like Irish grandmothers with their soda breads, the secret seemed to be held in her hands. In just a few minutes, and with a few deft moves, the flour, baking powder, salt and melted butter became a dozen or two biscuits in the pan. Soft pillows of dough, delicious looking even uncooked. Twenty minutes later hot biscuits on the table. She also made yeast bread rolls that were my favorite – BP biscuits, in my mind, were second best. I kept quiet about that while I ate a couple anyway with butter and honey. I still have, and use, her biscuit cutter.
And now I get it. Quick breads are not only delicious, they’re QUICK. On St. Patrick’s Day Irish Soda Bread has its moment, a good time to remember that good bread can be put on the table in a hurry. Truly, in about the time it would take to run to the store and back it’s in the oven and halfway done, a couple of bucks, gas and packaging saved. And, honestly, I wasn’t prepared for how wonderful these breads are – texture and flavor far beyond what you’d expect from a bread that you can get into the oven in under twenty minutes flat.
What we’ve come to call Irish Soda Bread is not the traditional version, which is made without currants or raisins, a plain bread for sopping up gravy or slathering with butter. The fruity version that we know best is reserved for teatime. Two versions here, an Irish Soda Bread with currants, caraway and orange zest, and then a multi-grain plain bread that’s more everyday Irish.
Sustainability. Because of moderate climate, no searing summer heat nor frigid winter cold, the wheat grown in Ireland is soft. Its gluten doesn’t develop as readily as it does in hard wheat. Irish Soda Bread is a perfect example of using what’s available and what characterizes a locale. In this case Ireland’s soft wheat adapts perfectly to the chemistry of buttermilk and soda and comes together in a bread that’s in sync with its own region.
Check out additional Irish soda bread recipes at Tipnut.
Teatime Soda Bread Recipe
Preheat oven to 375º
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl: 2 C white flour, 2 C whole wheat flour/ 1 1/2 t soda/ 1 t salt/ 1/4 C sugar/ 1 T orange zest/ 1 t caraway seeds (may be omitted)/ 1 C raisins or currants.
Combine wet ingredients in another bowl: 1/4 C melted butter/ 1 1/2 C buttermilk/ 1 egg. Good to have these at room temp if you can manage it.
Add wet ingredients to center of dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead only a few times to create a rounded form. Dough is sticky – that’s OK. The less this is kneaded and handled, the better. Place on a buttered baking sheet or in a cast iron skillet and lightly make a cross-shaped indentation through the center. Brush the top lightly with half & half and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar if you’re so inclined. Bake at 375º for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
I read varying accounts about how to bake and consume this bread. 425º or 375º, cast iron or baking sheet, eat it while it’s warm, let it cool for several hours, wait until the next day . . . this array of advice encouraged a renegade approach and was permission to make my own way. Clearly, there are many ways to make an Irish Soda Bread. I used cast iron and baked one large loaf at 375º. With a less heat-conductive pan, 425º might be better.
Plain Soda Bread Recipe
And then I made a plain soda bread (without fruit and with less sugar), truer to what I’m told is traditional, and this one with such an assortment of healthy grains I actually wondered if it would be any good. It was.
I used Greg Patent’s basic recipe from A Baker’s Odyssey (celebrating time-honored recipes) for the plain bread, but followed the mixing process I’d used with the teatime bread.
Greg Patent recommends 425º for about 40 minutes. I used cast iron again and kept oven at 400º.
Combine dry ingredients in one large bowl: 1 3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour/ 1 C whole wheat flour/ 1/4 C wheat bran/ 1/4 C oat bran/ 1/4 C untoasted wheat germ/ 2 T flaxseed/ 1/3 C raw sunflower seeds/ 2 T granulated sugar/ 1 t salt/ 2 t baking soda. You could add a teaspoon of caraway seeds if you like, though Patent’s recipe doesn’t call for it.
Combine wet ingredients in another bowl: 1 3/4 C buttermilk/ 1 large egg/ 3 T butter, melted. Again, wet ingredients at room temp if possible.
Because it was simple, I repeated the same process as with the previous recipe. Add wet ingredients to center of dry ingredients and stir gently until just combined. The recipe calls for a quick kneading with a little more flour to create a viable round form. I found it impossible to knead at first – too wet and sticky. I worked with a wide pastry scraper and a little more whole wheat flour and formed a rustic blob of circular dough which I kneaded briefly and then baked in a buttered cast iron skillet (parchment lined or buttered pan is fine too). Make the characteristic cross-shaped indentation across the center of the loaf before making. No cream or sugar sprinkled on the top of this one. Bake at 400º for 35 – 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.
I could have added another quarter cup of any of the flours; or followed Patent’s directions for cutting in cold butter with the flour – the dough would have been less sticky. Next time. In the meantime, I’m happy with this version. And wet dough, as with no-knead bread, often results in beautiful texture.
I’m all about a cup of coffee with toast and jam in the morning whenever I can manage it. In my book a bread’s gotta be toastable. Both of these measure up. I used the plain soda bread for a killer open-faced melted cheese sandwich. Both are good for a couple of days, then freeze whatever’s left and eat it whenever.
Originally posted March, 2010.