Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Although I am one-quarter Irish, I am embarrassed to admit that I really am not educated on the food and traditions of the Irish culture. As a result, I thought for St. Patrick’s Day I would bake up something traditionally Irish and take a little time to learn about the background of the dish. I chose Irish Soda Bread since I have seen so many variations of it online over the years and I put it on My 100 list of things to make. Not only had I never made this bread before, but I had never tasted it either. I dove in with no real expectations and about an hour later became officially addicted to this bread. As in, devoured a large portion of the loaf. I had to practice some serious restraint and was happy to share it with some family!
I found the history of Irish Soda Bread to be interesting, as it is a result of Ireland not producing grain with a high enough protein content to work successfully with yeast. However, the lower protein content resulted in a softer flour that worked exceptionally well with baking soda and together could product a beautiful rise. I was always under the impression that Irish Soda Bread contained raisins or some sort of dried fruit, but from what I read, this is the Americanized version of the bread and traditionally it only included four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. This bread could not be any easier to put together. One bowl, a whisk, a fork, and some light elbow grease is all you need. I love the rustic nature of the bread and how hearty it tastes. Slather it with butter and jam, toast it and drizzle it with honey, or slice off pieces and eat it plain (guilty). However you eat it, just be sure to make it and enjoy it; this is an Irish tradition I am likely to repeat year after year!
Classic Irish Soda Bread
Yield: 1 loaf
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 to 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for crust
1½ cups buttermilk
1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400°. Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt together in a large bowl. Work the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or your fingertips until the texture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork just until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a flour-coated work surface; knead just until the dough becomes cohesive and bumpy, 12 to 14 turns. (Do not knead until the dough is smooth, or the bread will be tough.)
3. Pat the dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high; place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Score the dough by cutting a cross shape on the top of the loaf.
4. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, or the internal temperature reaches 180°, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and brush the surface with the melted butter; cool to room temperature, 30 to 40 minutes.
(Baking Illustrated, pages 42-43)