I remember from a trip to Ireland that my friend’s mother lamented she could never make Irish soda bread in the US that could rival the Irish soda bread you could make in Ireland. She informed us that this was due to a difference of flour. One of the tasks we had to do was go shopping and bring bags of flour back from Ireland. So you see, I have some background with being particular over Irish Soda Bread.
You all know that I love my little town of Murphy’s. But there is one thing that makes my skin crawl and my eyes flash with fury. In March, our local market carries a manufactured yeasted hot cross bun without icing that is labeled and sold as Irish soda bread. This sweet yeasted bread bears not a speck of resemblance to Irish soda bread. I understand that it lets the manufacturer extend their hot cross bun production, but I’m not amused. True Irish soda bread is based on flour, baking soda, a dash of salt and preferably buttermilk. To this you may choose to add a tablespoon of sugar, currents, raisins or dried fruits. You could modernize it with spices and fruits and play with your flours. But, once you take out soda as the leavening or add yeast – it simply is not a soda bread. There is a distinctive taste to the soda within the bread that does not appeal to all and the lack of any fats mean that it will dry to a brick and be a lovely doorstop the day after you’ve baked it (in Ireland, my sister likened eating soda bread to be as pleasurable as eating sawdust). I have a taste for and like the real thing. Do have to remember not to serve it to the locals here as I’m sure, given their expectation, I’d be greeted with a loud GAACK from folks expecting a sweet yeast bread.
Now that I’ve set reasonable expectations, let’s proceed to the bread. An Irish soda bread is made like a biscuit. If you knead or work it too much it will toughen – light touch is required. I base my recipe on one by Marion Cunningham that’s in Baking with Julia (I understand this was companion to a series, though I never saw the tv show, great book with one top recipe from each of many renowned bakers).
Traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe:4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 cups buttermilk
Maggie’s version Irish Soda Bread:3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 cup whole-wheat flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon sugar 3/4 cup raisins 2 cups buttermilk Oven 375
Grease in 8 inch pie plate or baking sheet. Stir the dry ingredients together with a fork. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I like to press my baking soda through a tea strainer to ensure it has no lumps. Add the buttermilk and completely blend. Add the raisins. Turn onto a lightly floured board and work for a scant 1 minute. Do not overwork this dough. Add into a six-inch disk an X across the top. Place into your pan or on your cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 50 min. until light golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool. This bread is delicious with some rich creamy butter and a cup of tea.