Old World flavor
Bake a loaf of soda bread for an authentic touch of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day.
By JANET K. KEELER
Published March 14, 2007
Master the art of simple soda bread and the pleasure will last beyond St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday. This quick bread with its charming, lightly sweet countenance is a lovely addition to the table any time of year, especially breakfasts on chilly days.
[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
Too often the mention of Irish soda bread is greeted with the yuck look. You've seen the face: wrinkled nose, curled lips, eyes cast sideways.
Maybe the disdain is for the raisins baked into the slightly sweet bread. Are they too reminiscent of the maligned fruitcake? Perhaps the bread's crumbly texture prevents it from getting its due. Store-bought soda bread is only okay, but homemade, straight out of the oven, is much better because it's still moist. Time is not kind to the humble soda bread.
Master the art of simple soda bread and the pleasure will last beyond St. Patrick's Day on Saturday. This quick bread with its charming, lightly sweet countenance is a lovely addition to the table any time of year, especially breakfasts on chilly days.
Soda bread was a daily bread, one made easily in the days before baking powder and without using yeast. To rise and bake took only baking soda, buttermilk and less than an hour on the fire. A perfect showing for farm-fresh butter.
Besides raisins, festive soda breads are traditionally flecked with currants or caraway seeds. A modern adaptation might include dried cherries or craisins.
Making corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day is easy follow directions on package, yet you can truly elevate your feast with homemade soda bread.
Master the light touch with dough and butter and make a loaf or two of soda bread while the cabbage is cooking. Bring the bread to the table still steaming and serve with creamy Irish butter from Kerrygold (many grocery stores stock it).
Or perhaps make Irish Whiskey Butter, a brilliant idea from cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum, whose Royal Irish Soda Bread recipe, included with this story, may change the minds of detractors.
In addition to whiskey in the butter, she suggests soaking the raisins in Irish whiskey before baking, a smashing suggestion that provides a taste of an actual Irish product.
Plain or fancy
The original soda bread had no dried fruit bits, so you can leave out raisins, with or without the kick, if you so desire. (Someone in my house suggested chocolate chips instead, and I dare say that sounded pretty good. Maybe not with corned beef.)
Soda bread is a cross between a biscuit and a scone. Flecks of cold butter should be visible after the dough comes together, which takes mere minutes. As in scone, biscuit or pastry crust dough, the bits of butter are what keep the bread tender.
Early forms of soda bread, often made daily to accompany a family's breakfast and dinner, contained only flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. Today, butter and a wee bit of sugar are commonly added.
Be wary of recipes that call for baking powder because it can leave a metallic aftertaste. You don't need the extra leavening; the buttermilk has enough acid to react with the baking soda to provide lift.
Before baking, a deep "X" is scored into the top of the loaf. One Irish legend says that the cross frightens the devil away. We don't know about that, but it does help heat escape as the dough expands.
I made three loaves of Beranbaum's Royal Irish Soda Bread, using her suggestion of plumping the raisins in whiskey. Two were fantastic and one was too soggy because I didn't drain the raisins enough. My bad.
If you are concerned about alcohol content, you can use hot water or room temperature apple juice.
The bread can be made with a mix of whole wheat and white flour and remain slight, writes Beranbaum in The Bread Bible (Norton, 2003).
Either way, the dough is sticky and too much added flour will make the final product even more crumbly.
Give homemade soda bread a try. You may want it to grace your table more than once a year.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at (727) 893-8586 or email@example.com.
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Royal Irish Soda Bread
1 scant cup raisins
1/2 cup Irish whiskey or hot water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
3 tablespoons of reserved whiskey
1 tablespoon sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
- In a small bowl, combine the raisins and whiskey. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit, stirring once, until the raisins are softened, about 30 minutes (or let stand for as long as overnight).
- Drain and reserve the whiskey to use in the Irish whiskey butter. You should have about 3 tablespoons.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Cut the butter into 8 slices so it begins to soften and will be easier to mix into the flour.
- In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. With your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the drained raisins. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in the buttermilk just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together.
- Empty the dough onto the counter and knead it lightly about eight times, until smooth but still a little sticky. If it sticks to the counter, use a bench scraper to gather it together; try to avoid adding extra flour. Flour your hands lightly if absolutely necessary.
- Shape the dough into a 6-inch disc. It will be about 1 3/4 inches high. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, make a 1/2-inch slash from one side of the dough to the other, then make a second slash across it to form a cross.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a wooden skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes on a rack before serving.
To make Irish Whiskey Butter, microwave reserved whiskey with sugar for about 20 seconds. Stir to dissolve sugar and let cool completely. In a small bowl, gradually stir the whiskey mixture into softened, unsalted butter until mixed thoroughly. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Source: The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (Norton, 2003)
[Last modified March 13, 2007, 12:38:48]
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