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Irish Soda Bread

With some Irish roots in my blood (my great-grandmother on my mother’s side was from Ireland), one would think I would have a recipe for Irish soda bread under my belt. I’ve eaten it before but never made it myself.

My mother not-so-fondly recalls the bread her grandmother made. She said it was hard as a rock and had an awful taste. Now I don’t know what recipe my great-grandmother used to make her soda bread or the reason my mother hated it so much. Maybe it wasn’t fresh by the time my mom had a slice. It must be eaten up quickly or wrapped tightly and frozen for another day. Maybe my mom just didn’t care for this simple table bread. Whatever the reason, I’m sure anyone who has carried a disdain for Irish soda bread would change his or her mind after trying the lovely loaf pictured above. You can find the recipe at this week’s TWD: Baking with Julia hosts: Chocolate Moosey and My Culinary Mission.

You only spend a few minutes mixing five simple ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk, and raisins. You gently knead the dough with a light hand, pat the dough into a 6 inch disk, slash an X across the top, and bake for about 50 minutes. Done and done. So simple. Slathered with butter or jam it’s delicious! We enjoyed ours on St. Patrick’s Day with our corned beef and cabbage.

Now the raisins are completely non-traditional but I couldn’t resist tossing in a handful. I briefly soaked them in hot water so they could regain some of their juiciness. I’ve learned that dried fruit only gets drier when baked so it’s often a good idea to give them a good soak. Next time maybe I’ll try soaking the fruit in some bourbon or rum for extra flavor.

Speaking of tradition, Epicurious has a great interview with an Irish chef detailing the history of Irish soda bread. I’ve learned that Americans have taken some liberties with the classic recipe. It was also interesting to learn that one of the reasons for slashing an X across the top was to “let the devil out of the bread.” It’s certainly a recipe with a rich history.

I will probably not wait for St. Patrick’s Day to roll around again before I whip up another loaf. I might switch it up next time too. Some interesting variations include using whole wheat flour for part or all of the bread, adding cheese, orange or lemon zest, or other dried fruit like cranberries. All non-traditional but I’m sure each would turn out great. I’m certain I can even get my mom to like it.