Irish Soda Bread

>> Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Every time St. Patrick's Day rolls around, I get excited and "homesick" at the same time. It's been about four years since I studied abroad in Ireland. I had the privilege of spending St. Patty's Day in the heart of it all - Dublin, Ireland. Someday I'll make it back, this time with a better-equipped camera.

Surprisingly, I don't remember eating much soda bread. I think I bought a loaf at the bakery once. I even asked my best friend who lives there, and she said she typically doesn't make or eat it herself. My parents were visiting this past weekend, so I decided to make a loaf in honor of the holiday coming up. Plus I can send most of the loaf home with them so I eat less of it.

Irish soda bread got its name because it uses baking soda as a leavening agent instead of yeast. This also means the dough comes together very quickly and is easy to make. Most traditional recipes use four ingredients - flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Typically, I use the milk + vinegar sub for buttermilk, but I feel that some recipes, like this and waffles, need authentic buttermilk. For my bread, I added a handful of raisins (or sultanas as the Irish call them). Right before baking, a cross is cut into the top of the bread, which, according to Irish folklore, is said to ward off evil or to let the fairies out.

Although on the outside the bread looked great, the middle was still slightly raw. I tried putting it back in, but the damage was done. Not sure what happened. Either it needed more time or my dough was too wet. I still have some buttermilk left, so maybe I will cut the recipe in half and try again.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Brush a baking sheet with oil or line with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Sift flour, salt, and soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk. Mix well with a spoon, then with your hands. The dough should be very soft but not too wet. Mix in raisins, if using

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly and briefly - too much will toughen it while too little means it won't rise properly. Shape into an 8-inch round loaf. Place onto baking sheet and cut a cross in the top.

Bake 25-30 minutes. It should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to a wire rack and cool slightly. Serve warm.

Sources: "A Little Irish Cookbook" by John Murphy and "Irish Pub Cooking" by Love Food.


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