Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Irish Soda Bread

There's a funny story behind this Irish soda bread recipe.  Actually, it's probably not funny at all...at least not any of you guys.  It's probably only silly to me. Basically, this is what happened.  Years ago, when my sister was in kindergarten or something like that, her class had a "heritage day" or something of sorts.  Every kid was supposed to bring in something that described their culture, and if possible, some type of food specific to their culture for everyone to try (and hopefully like!).  For this event, my parents took obleas (these are reallllyyyy thin big, round wafer-type cookies that are sandwiched with a thick layer of dulce de leche.  This is actually my favorite dessert EVER), and envueltos (I'd describe these as a type of corn cake, although they don't really have a cake-like texture at all, but they're delicious).  One of my sister's classmates brought in Irish soda bread as his culturally-relevant food, and my parents got to try it.  Ever since that day, they have not been able to stop raving about that Irish soda bread and just how amazing it is.  Eventually, a class cookbook was conceived, with each student bringing in a favorite family recipe to add to the cookbook.  The recipe for the ever-famous Irish soda bread was submitted, and my parents couldn't have been more thrilled.  They made the soda bread several times, and yes, that soda bread was pretty damn good. 

This recipe I'm sharing with you today is NOT that recipe from my sister's elementary school class. 

I like to share my baking plans for the blog with my parents and my sister, just to get some feedback and suggestions.  As soon as I mentioned that I wanted to make Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day, my parents were ALL over the idea.  They thought it was great!  The only condition was that I HAD to post the infamous Irish soda bread recipe from my sister's childhood cookbook. Knowing that the recipe was, in fact, quite delicious, I agreed, except that there was one tiny problem: the cookbook had mysteriously disappeared.  My parents were in denial that it was missing, and both of them claimed to have, "just seen it, right there on the kitchen counter!"  I was positive that we had lost the cookbook in the general shuffle of events that is life, but there was no convincing my parents that that had been the case.  Nope. My mother promptly stopped whatever she was doing at the moment, and took out literally EVERYTHING she saved from her children's elementary school years, and sat on the floor going through every last article of both me and my sister's childhood.  My dad did the same, only he looked in other random places, convinced that the cookbook was still in our possession.  Yup, this cookbook was just that important. Both turned up empty handed, so I decided to just use the powers of the Internet to find a new recipe, because, well there had to be other good versions of Irish soda bread in this world.  My parents, very reluctantly, accepted the fact that the cookbook no longer existed in our household, and that they would have to settle for a potentially inferior quality Irish soda bread.  I told them, in as nice a way as I possibly could, to get over it.  This new Irish soda bread would still be delicious!

And delicious it was, indeed...or at least I thought so.  

My parents simply thought the bread was "good," but that was alright with me.  I really wasn't expecting another kind of reaction from them, knowing how obsessed enamored they are with the other soda bread recipe.  Oh well.  This new soda bread works for me!  It's not a traditional soda bread, since it is missing caraway seeds and is on the sweeter side, thanks to the addition of a little orange zest and raisins, but I don't mind this.  Personally, I'm not a huge fan of caraway seeds, and I love everything when it's studded with raisins throughout, so I thought this was perfect.  

Soda breads, in general, are a type of bread in which the leavening agent is baking soda, rather than yeast. The buttermilk in soda bread recipes is a key ingredient when making soda bread, as it reacts with the baking soda to create the bubbles that allow the bread to rise, so make sure you use buttermilk when you make this, not milk!  Soda breads are great because they only require very simple ingredients that everyone normally keeps on hand, so they're easy to prepare at a moment's notice.  Recipes like that just can't be beat! I made a few changes to the recipe I used, really just some suggestions that are subjective to your taste. First, I used raisins instead of currants, for two reasons the first being that I just love raisins, and the second being that I only had raisins in my kitchen, and we all know by now that I'm a bit lazy about leaving my house to pick up an ingredient at the store that can just as easily be substituted   This recipe calls for a lot of raisins, a whole cup to be exact.  My parents thought there were too many raisins in the bread, but I like a lot of raisins, so I thought it was fine.  Adjust the amount of raisins to your taste!  One thing we all agreed on, however, was that there was too much orange zest in the original recipe.  We found it to be a little overpowering, so I'm suggesting to use only half a teaspoon instead a whole teaspoon, although this can also be adjusted to your taste.  

This Irish soda bread recipe may not have been the recipe my parents were dreaming I'd make, but it's a great recipe regardless!  The bread was delicious served warm from the oven, and was even better the next morning for breakfast, toasted with a little salted butter.  Enjoy!

Irish Soda Bread
recipe slightly adapted from Barefoot Contessa


4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold and diced
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (optional, to taste)
1 cup raisins (adjust amount to taste)


Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees F and set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner. 

In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add the butter, and mix on low speed, just until the butter is mixed into the flour. 

In a small bowl or measuring cup, lightly beat together the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest with a fork.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.  In a separate bowl, combine the raisins with 1 tablespoon of flour, and mix them into the dough.  The dough will be very wet and sticky!

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work suface, and knead it a couple of times, shaping it into a round loaf.  Place the loaf onto the prepared sheet pan, and lightly score an "X" onto the top of the loaf with a knife. Bake the bread for about 55 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. 

Allow the bread to cool slightly on a wire rack.  Serve the bread warm with butter or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Makes 1 loaf


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