Irish Soda Bread

Irish.Soda.Bread

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (almost)!  Despite its more recent history of being an excuse to drink green beer all day, it’s actually considered a cultural and religious holiday celebrating Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, and the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.  Lucky for practicing Catholics, Lent restrictions on drinking are lifted for the day so they can participate in the traditional debauchery.  Since the Irish seem to be great ambassadors, Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national holiday.

Since this Irish holiday lands during the work week this year, you might be thinking about celebrating in a more subdued way with Irish food rather than drowning in Guinness and whisky.  If you’ve checked out Trader Joe’s, then maybe you’ve seen their Irish Bangers – a take on Ireland’s traditional pork-based sausage with spices, mustard, and Rusk – a twice-baked crouton that adds texture to the meat.  Corned beef and cabbage was a given in my Japanese-American family’s house where any holiday was an excuse to cook.  At some point we added Irish soda bread to the traditional mix because honestly, there’s only so much cabbage and potatoes you can eat.  It’s also perfect for snacking any time of the day, including a quick breakfast.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never made bread.  Irish soda bread is an easy quick bread that uses baking soda as a leavening agent instead of yeast.  Throw in some buttermilk and its lactic acid will react with the baking soda, forming bubbles that will help the bread rise.  There’s no complicated kneading or machinery necessary.

This Irish soda bread recipe is great for those of you who are not too huge on sweets.  The caraway seeds (which are actually fruits) add a subtle sweet, herbal, anise-like flavor.  Orange zest and dried currants (or raisins) add some more familiar freshness and fruity sweetness.

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dried currants/raisins
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, dice into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease baking sheet with vegetable oil or line with parchment paper.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, caraway seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into the flour mixture until butter pieces are the size of peas.
  4. Lightly beat egg with buttermilk and orange zest in a small bowl or measuring cup. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture, blending the two together. Mix 1 tablespoon of flour with the currants (or raisins).  Add the flour-covered currants to the dough. Don’t be concerned if the dough is very wet.
  5. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board. Knead dough, turning no more than a minute to form a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Cut a  “X” on the top with a serrated knife to help the loaf expand while baking. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool on a baking rack. Serve room, room temperature, toasted, pa n-fried with a little butter, or grilled.
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