Irish Soda Bread
Every time I make soda bread I'm afraid it won't turn out. I don't know how else to put this: In its raw form it always seems like such a glob of ... goop. It's a very wet dough, and while it doesn't have yeast it does require a teensy bit of kneading, and of course that's the part that always stresses me out. Yet when I look in the oven I'm always pleasantly surprised, and when I taste it? Well, when I taste it I wonder why in the world I was ever nervous in the first place. When this loaf finished baking I immediately pulled a hunk right off the edge (my favorite part), slathered it with grape jelly, and took a bite. I offered some to the Wee One standing beside me, but he quickly shrugged it off, leaving me to dance a little jig that this bread was mine, all mine.
Soda bread is a traditional Irish food that dates to the mid-1800s, when baking soda was introduced to Ireland. The Irish didn't invent soda bread (it's very likely an import from Australia, where they call it damper) but it is mostly identified with them because of its prevalence there. Soft wheats, which don't form traditional glutens like yeast breads, are the kind that grow best in Ireland. Since yeast breads were not widely made in Ireland, and since baking was done at home with limited supplies, soda bread was a natural fit. Baking soda is the leavening agent in this bread, and it's much more consistent and quick than using yeast. There are two accepted versions of soda bread, a whole-wheat sweetened version often made with raisins or currants, and a white, savory version which is made with all white flour. (A quick search of my blog will reveal that I have no recipes with raisins in them. That's because I believe that if there is one place raisins do not belong it's in baked goods!)
Soda bread is wonderful with soups and stews, and it makes great toast, too. It's easy enough to put together for breakfast, but it doesn't keep beyond a day or two so be prepared to share! I'm sure that your neighbors and co-workers would love to get this St. Patrick's Day treat.
Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from Disney.com and Simply Recipes
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 2/3 cup buttermilk*
1. Preheat oven to 350*. Grease baking sheet.
2. In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter until it is in pea-sized pieces. Add buttermilk and egg and stir until dough is a lumpy ball. Turn dough onto well-floured surface, and knead about a minute. (Be sure not to over-mix or over-knead or your bread will be tough.) Shape into a disc, and place on greased baking sheet. Cut an X** into top of dough (unless like me you're unable to because the dough is too sticky.)
3. Bake 35-50 minutes, checking after 30 minutes. (If your bread begins to brown too much on top, place a piece of foil lightly on top to protect the crust as it finishes baking.) If a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean your bread is finished.
* I used powdered buttermilk, which Susan of Food Blogga intoduced me to, and I've never looked back!
** The complete origins of the X are unknown. Some say it helps the dough to bake through to the middle, but legends have it that the cross was meant to either ward off the devil or release fairies. I tend to prefer the fairy tale, don't you?