It’s not often that I make things for St. Patrick’s Day. It never crosses my mind to make green colored frosted cakes or green drinks. I do like to see the creations going around the web for this festive holiday.
I found several American Irish soda bread recipes I couldn’t wait to try. The most recent I came across this week in the New York Time’s. It was more like a dessert bread than a hearty and grainy bread I’d expect to find if I were lucky enough to end up one day in Ireland.
My mom is a thrifting expert. She sometimes comes across gems like old issues of Gourmet magazine. Oh, I sure miss that incredible magazine. She just picked up a Gourmet from 1994 last week.
One of the articles in the magazine is by Jeanne Lemlin. Jeanne wrote about Irish soda breads after a trip she made there with her family. Jeanne writes, “In my quest to discover what accounts for the deep, abiding flavor of soda bread, I spoke to a number of people in towns along the country’s southwestern coast and, extending my search to the professional level, the bakers at Field’s supermarket (where my favorite bread is made).
She goes on to describe observing the Irish bakers: “As the six women worked, silently and swiftly measuring, mixing, kneading, and shaping, McSweeney (the bakery’s manager), explained, ‘You must use a coarsely ground low-gluten flour.’ “
Jeanne describes touching the dough, “I had always assumed that when you bake a free-standing, circular loaf, your dough has to e fairly stiff. And, although these bakers don’t knead the dough as assiduously as one would when preparing yeast bread, they do handle these masses quite vigorously.” Jeanne shares four recipes from around Ireland. I feel confident in saying this is an authentic Irish soda bread. Of the four recipes in the article, Jeanne explains, “ ‘Brown bread’, the most common sort of soda bread, is a dark loaf made with whole-meal flour; it was this version that I found most irresistible. I may share that recipe one day soon.
I’m not sure it will be my kid’s favorite but I can see myself enjoying it with some Kerrygold butter and a slather of homemade jam.
I had to read a little about the origins of Irish Soda Bread. I found out there is even a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. The author of the article explains, “the Irish have made Soda Bread theirs. Not by choice, but by a state of poverty that made it the easiest bread to put on the table.”
It was very interesting to read that in the journal Chemistry and Chemical Analysis by the Ireland Commissioners of National Education published in 1861 in Dublin the following appeared on page 319:
Although it is very desirable that bread should be light, it is not always possible to obtain yeast: - hence, what is called "soda bread" has been of late, very much used. Its lightness is due to carbonic acid, disengaged from bicarbonate of soda. The latter is mixed with the flour, and is decomposed by an acid -- sometimes, by that contained in sour milk, but more conveniently by dilute hydrochloric acid. This kind of bread, has not the advantage of its constituents being even slightly broken up, by incipient fermentation; nevertheless, it is said to have properties, which render it at least as wholesome as that which is made with yeast.
The author of the site includes this list of what does not constitute a traditional Irish Soda Bread:
“A few absolutes: Traditional Irish Soda Bread does not contain
- "zest", orange or any other kind
- Irish Whiskey. (talk about stereotyping!!!)
- Honey (substitute for sugar)
- Sugar (see definition of "cake")
- eggs (see definition of "cake")
- Garlic (not common in English/Irish dishes)
- Shortening (hydrogenated vegetable oil - Crisco introduced to the US in 1911. Not in the 19th century)
- Double Cream (British term for "Heavy Cream" but a little thicker. Not much chance irish peasants would be using this.)
- Sour Cream (traditional in Eastern European dishes. Became popular in the US and European kitchens during the past 50 years, not 150 years ago. see http://www.ochef.com/516.htm
- Yogurt (prior to 1900 a staple in Central Europe and Asia. Introduced to the US after WWII by Isaac Carasso who started Dannon in NY City. Not a 19th century Irish baking item.)
- Chiles/Jalapenos (Right! Ireland is well known for using these in its traditional food!! por favor!
- Fruit (Only in Christmas/Easter cakes and other special occasions._
You can go over to the site to find out more! And visit their updated site for the latest Irish Soda Bread info.
Do you have stories about Irish Soda Bread? Share them in the comment section…I’d love to hear them!
If you are a novice bread baker, you must try this recipe. It is put together in a flash. There is no worry about letting it rise and how to shape it. It’s a rustic bread with a wonderful crumb. I’ve baked it already a few times. Each time the slashes I made turned out to bake into a different pattern. This last time it ended up looking almost like a starfish. Jeanne explains, “The golden raisins in the bread impart a tangy flavor. This recipe (which comes from County Cork)is at its best when allowed to sit for a few hours before slicing.” I can tell you that I would’ve had to have baked this bread without any one at home to let it sit for a few hours before slicing. I had a crowd of family members around me waiting for the first slice. It was loud and chaotic. There was Kerrygold cheese and there was some butter and there were plenty of happy customers. Whatever happens to be leftover is wonderful heated up the next day to enjoy for breakfast with coffee.
The basic soda bread is made with flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk (or buttermilk). So the bread I’m sharing that is called Irish Soda Bread in Gourmet 1994 is actually a Spotted Dog because of the addition of raisins.
Irish Soda Bread-Spotted Dog
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for sprinkling
1/4 cup wheat bran (not bran cereal)or toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 cup golden raisins (I also used some currants)
1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt (I used a cup of milk with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to make my own buttermilk)
Preheat oven to 400 F and sprinkle a baking sheet lightly with flour (or line a sheet with parchment paper).
In a large bowl whisk together flour, bran, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and toss to coat with flour. With fingertips rub in butter until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add raisins and toss until coated. Add buttermilk and stir until dough is moistened evenly.
On a floured surface knead dough one minute, sprinkling lightly with additional flour to prevent sticking (dough should remain soft). Shape dough into a ball.
On a prepared baking sheet pad dough out into a 6-inch round. Sprinkle round with additional flour and with fingertips spread lightly over round. With a sharp knife cut a shallow X on top of round.
Bake bread in middle of oven 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown. Wrap bread in a kitchen towel and cool on a rack one hour. Unwrap bread and cool one more hour.
Happy Baking! xo Lora
To all my friends that celebrate, I wish you a very Happy St. Patrick’s Day!