13 March, 2013

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

Okay, I'm gonna get real with you for a minute here.  I've seen some horrifically UNauthentic recipes for Irish Soda Bread in my lifetime.  So, I want you to understand where this bread came from.  Ireland...specifially, poor Ireland.  There was never cocoa powder, no caraway seeds, no butter, no fruits in this bread, no sugar glazes on top...none of the myriad of CRAP you see at your local grocers proudly labeled as "Irish Soda Bread".  Beware of ANY recipe that calls for ANYthing more than flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk.  Sure, you might have to grease a pan if you don't have parchment paper handy but...no butter goes in the dough.

Irish soda bread didn't even make its debut in Ireland until after the famine years (1845-1852).  So if your mother gave you a recipe from Grandpa Finn who "brought over" HIS mother's recipe in 1802 before the Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger)...I'm sorry to be the one to tell you but, that recipe didn't come from Grandpa Finn's mother.  Your mom likely got it out of a magazine or church cookbook.  The good news is, with the advent of the internet and the glut of "authentic" and "traditional" cookbooks available these days, you can still get your hands on a recipe that will be true to the Irish soda bread tradition.

Why do I know all of this useless information??  Because, my Grandmother Avis' genealogy and my father in law's genealogy have ample Irish heritage interlaced with everything else and...what do the Irish LOVE to do as a past time??  That's right, gab.  Specifically, tell old family stories.  You can learn a lot on a Sunday afternoon eating lunch at Grandma's house!

This particular recipe is SO simple and can be made in a stand mixer, by hand or even mixed in your bread machine.  The absolute best flour to use for this bread is a "soft wheat" flour also known as "pastry flour" these days.  Some folk even swear by cake flour which is ground even MORE finely than pastry flour.  If you don't have either pastry or cake flour don't worry, all purpose flour will do just fine.

Irish Soda Bread
4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
14 oz. buttermilk or soured soy milk

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.

Put a large piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet OR grease a 10 inch round x 3 inch deep cake pan if you don't like free form round loaves of bread.

In a large bowl sift and combine all the dry ingredients.  Make a well in the center and gradually mix in the liquid with a wooden spoon. You may need less, or more liquid - it depends on the absorbent quality of your flour.

The dough should be soft but manageable. Knead the dough into a ball in the mixing bowl with your floured hands. Put on a lightly floured baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten out in a circle 1 1/2 inches thick.

With a very sharp knife, make a cross through the center of the bread so that it will easily break into quarters when it is baked.

Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes then, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. (If the crust seems too hard when it is done baking, wrap the cooled, baked bread in a damp tea cloth.) 

Leave the loaf standing upright until it is cool. The bread should not be cut until it has set - about 6 hours after it comes out of the oven (personally, I can't wait 6 hours to eat fresh soda bread).

Yeah, this loaf didn't make it 6 hours...  It was unbelievably light for a single loaf that contained FOUR cups of flour.  The bread was a perfect texture for slathering butter all over.  It crept into every nook and cranny like gangbusters!  I can't say enough about this bread...  It was like a GINORMOUS dairy free buttermilk biscuit!!  SO simple to make, no fuss to bake and it tastes like it took you FOREVER!  I hope you enjoy your St. Patrick's Day celebration with your family this year by trying out this recipe.  sasta ú. Pádraig!!!

 Our "feast"....baked potatoes, oven roasted ham and Irish soda bread with organic salted sweet cream butter.  A true representation of old fashioned St. Patrick's Day eating!!

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