Irish Soda Bread
Food memories play such a unique role in our eating experiences and food personalities. The first time I was introduced to Irish soda bread was through my great aunt. She took me to a bakery in New Jersey where you walk through the inner workings of the bakery and grab hot, fresh loaves directly off the bakery racks, fill up a paper bag with fresh bread, take it to the counter where they slice it to your preferred thickness and individually bag the loaves. I had never been to a bakery like this and I was fairly certain it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. (And since I’ve never been back, it has managed to retain its whimsical, does-it-actually-exist quality.) The magical racks of so many different types of fresh bread were intoxicating. My aunt insisted on filling my bag with a variety of bakery goods, including Irish soda bread.
I began nibbling on the loaf during the bus ride back to New York and I couldn’t stop! It was dense, lightly sweet from the currants, and tangy from the caraway. In short, completely addicting. Somehow I managed to save enough to share with my roommate at the time who had never tried it before either. We both were hooked! After demolishing the one loaf, we were on a mission to find this illusive Irish soda bread from New Jersey again. Luckily, being in New York, we really only had to open our eyes … since it is sold in regular grocery stores all around the city. And, as we came to find, was the standard sandwich bread at a touristy ice cream parlor only a few blocks from our apartment.
When we needed a break or just a moment to digest our thoughts, Em and I would venture over to this touristy spot and indulge in an order of Irish soda bread. It was served slightly toasted with butter and was probably way too expensive, but we were too young to care. It was a remarkably simple comfort but at the time it was exactly what we needed. These days I still find myself drawn to Irish soda bread when I’m in need of something comforting. It always reminds me of good family, good friends, and good conversation.
I’ve come to learn that authentic Irish soda bread is only made with flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. For me, however, it isn’t the same without the plump, juicy currants or raisins and a good helping of caraway seeds. There are endless variations on the basic ingredients and it’s just about the simplest thing you can make … even if you don’t consider yourself a baker or bread maker! Pour all the ingredients into a bowl, stir and bake … then presto! Hot, fresh, delicious bread!
This is fantastic for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration but it shouldn’t be limited to Irish-related festivities. This is a great bread for any occasion and if you use whole wheat pastry flour it’s a very healthy bread for regular use. As Kayln has pointed out, if the raisins are omitted and a low-glycemic sweetener is used this would be a perfect bread for the later phases of the South Beach diet. Now go out and make your own Irish soda bread food memories!
Irish Soda Bread
Yield: 1 loaf
Cook Time: 32-35 minutes
2 cups flour*
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar**
3 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1/2 cup raisins
7/8 cup buttermilk*** (plus 1 tbsp, if necessary)
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and caraway seeds. Stir raisins into the flour mixture. Pour in buttermilk, adding an additional tablespoon, if necessary, and mix into shaggy ball.
- Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 2-3 minutes until the ball is fairly smooth. Form into a 6-inch, rounded ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cut a deep cross in the top with a sharp knife.
- Bake 32-35 minutes, until the top is well browned. A toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the center.
- Cool almost completely on a wire rack before slicing.
* You can use any combination of flours here. I used 1 cup 100% whole wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour. To make it all whole grain, I would suggest using a whole wheat pastry flour to give it a nice light crumb.
** If you want to make this South Beach or low glycemic friendly, substitute this for Splenda or agave nectar.
*** If you don't have buttermilk, you can use milk with about a tablespoon of vinegar added to it. Let it sit for a few minutes before adding to the batter.
Adapted from Baking Bites Irish Soda Bread with Raisins