My first attempt to make Irish Soda bread resulted in inedible bricks years ago. I have since then avoided them. But with Saint Patrick’s Day coming up, I thought I would give it another try. I also wanted to try to make a “soaked” version, which added a whole other element, so I was a little nervous about how it would turn out.
I couldn’t be more pleased (as the half eaten loaf besides me attests too!). I am very excited about this recipe and think it would be a lovely bread to serve with savory stews, corned beef and cabbage or Irish Lamb Stew. But what would really please me would be to sit down with a piece of this toasted, slathered with butter and a nice cup of tea to go with it. Yum!
For those of you unfamiliar with soda bread, apparently Ireland’s climate didn’t grow hard wheat well, which is vital for yeasted bread. So they developed a bread risen from buttermilk and baking soda, which worked wonderfully with the soft wheat they could grow (this is what pastry flour is ground out of). It traditionally was a very plain and basic bread with no added flavoring. We have since added the raisins, orange peel or other additives for a more flavorful loaf. So feel free to experiment with different seeds, dried fruit, etc. Or, just leave it all out for a nice basic loaf.
Soda bread has a wonderful crunchy crust, and is quite dense. It won’t last quite as long as yeasted bread and is best fresh out of the oven (heavenly) or toasted. It was traditionally made every day, so keep that in mind.
This recipe was adapted from a recipe from Gourmet. The currants add sweetness and the caraway, savoriness. To make it “soaked” you mix just the first three ingredients together, and add the rest the next day. At least that’s how I did it. Salt is supposed to retard the work of the buttermilk on the flour and I didn’t want to the baking soda to lose it’s activity by morning. So I used a method I learned in a bread baking book where you knead in other ingredients to a already formed dough, rather than mixing it into the flour. It worked!
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used half kamut flour and half whole wheat pastry flour)
1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup currants
The night before, put the flour into a large bowl. Cut (with knives or a pastry tool) the butter into the flour until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of a pea. Add the buttermilk. Stir with fork or spoon until a dough is starting to form. Then, knead carefully with your hands in the bowl until it just comes together to form a moist, slightly sticky dough (if it is really wet, you can add a little more flour, but don’t make it too dry! Also, don’t over knead! ) This is how mine looked.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave out on the counter top overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl.
You are now going to be gently folding and kneading the dough about 8 to 10 times. Currants will be falling everywhere (pick them up and stick them back in the dough, best you can), and you will almost feel like it won’t come together and then magically it will suddenly look like this
Beautiful already, isn’t it?!
Cut the dough in half, and gently form into 6 inch domed circle loaves, place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, like the below, and cut an X on the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.
Pop them in the middle of the oven for about 45-55 minutes, until golden brown top and bottom, and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, middle of the loaf. Cool on cooling racks and enjoy with lots of Irish butter.