Irish Soda Bread

Posted by: KristenSiefkin in: Food/Beverage -

During an amazing two-week adventure in western and southern Ireland, I saw and tasted dozens and dozens of loaves of soda bread.  What I found to be most fascinating were the variations in taste, texture and color.  While some differences were more subtle, others were more dramatic, including the addition of such ingredients as caraway seeds, dried fruits and nuts.

Much to my delight, soda bread (often called “brown bread”) was served at every meal in Ireland.  At breakfast, I’d slather a warm slice with chunky orange marmalade made by the owners of our B&B; at lunch, as an open-faced sandwich topped with thick slices of heavenly smoked salmon and a side of greens; and at dinner, to sop up the remains of my seafood chowder, soup or Irish stew.

Soda bread’s roots trace back to the 19th century, when baking soda was introduced as a leavening agent. Combined with flour and buttermilk, and salt, it’s extremely simple to make.  The Irish are committed to safeguarding the tradition of soda bread.  In fact, there’s even a “Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.”

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the following is a basic recipe, courtesy of EatingWell.com.

Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread

• 2 cups whole-wheat flour
• 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle with a little flour. Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in full circles (starting in the center of the bowl working toward the outside of the bowl) until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Clean dough off your hand.
Pat and roll the dough gently with floury hands, just enough to tidy it up and give it a round shape. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Mark with a deep cross using a serrated knife and prick each of the four quadrants.

Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and continue to bake until the loaf is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped, 30 to 35 minutes more. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool for about 30 minutes.

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