In honor of St. Patty's Day I made two different versions of Irish Soda Bread for the very first time. I admit that the idea never appealed to me because it seemed like a giant biscuit and I never could understand what was so great about that. Never did it occur to me that instead of thinking of it as a mutant biscuit I should think of it as a quick bread, but that wouldn't have happened because I can read the ingredient list.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread is made with just basic ingredients, flour, salt, baking soda and milk, and isn't enriched in any way save for the milk. Unless there's a version with water. If you add butter, sugar, raisins, eggs or any other flavorings then it ceases to be "old school", but it increases the yummy factor. Knowing this, I chose the recipe for Brown Bread from The Bread Book, which has a flour blend of whole wheat, all-purpose, wheat bran, wheat germ (I replaced the bran for the germ since I didn't have any of the latter), buttermilk and two tablespoons of butter. The recipe was from a lady in Ireland, so it's her fault it isn't totally traditional. For the untraditional version I chose Sunday Best Irish Soda Bread from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics. I used all the ingredients listed except for caraway seeds.
So I'm hangin' out, mixing bread, relaxin' all cool and all, when I realized after pouring in the buttermilk-egg-baking soda mixture that it was rather slack and more similar to drop biscuit batter than something that can be shaped into a loaf. I then started to add a little more flour and a little more flour, cursing Martha Stewart and her nontraditional methods, painfully aware that I was developing the gluten more than called for, telling myself how the "luck of the Irish" was an oxymoron (although I'm an Italian so that doesn't even apply to me -- and to state for the record I have no issues with anyone of Irish origin) when it dawned on me that since I didn't actually use buttermilk the liquid mixture was runnier. I run into this problem when I make my mom's buttermilk pancake recipe and I use milk with vinegar versus actual buttermilk. Sorry, Martha, my bad. You're a pretty cool broad.
Since this wasn't traditional, I made it even more so by hydrating the raisins (only 1 1/2 cups and a mixture of golden and purple) in heated freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with a little water, and adding the orange rind to the flour mixture. The caraway seeds would have been a nice compliment, as would have fennel seeds. Next time.
My reasons for making a version more traditional was that I figured it would be better alongside braised corned beef with vegetables instead of orangey-raisin bread. I looked at a few recipes before remembering the beloved Bread Book had two versions, one baked and one "baked" on the griddle. I chose the baked version because I didn't feel like babysitting anything that begins with a 'B'.
Of course I had to slice into each loaf for photography purposes, natural lighting and all that, so sampling was a must. This was much better than I thought it would be. Whole wheat products have a natural sweetness to me and the cup of wheat bran made it even better. This wasn't dense, either.
Oh, remembering the buttermilk issues I added two tablespoons of yogurt along with a tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk. That wasn't enough, so I added additional milk until it reached the desired consistency.
Both of these versions have their place at the table. One is akin to a giant scone, the other is great paired with whatever you are eating, and oatmeal, which I'm sure they did in Ireland back in the day. The subtle orange flavor in the Martha Stewart bread was nice, and a burst of oranginess came out upon biting into a cluster of raisins. The texture was in between a biscuit and quick bread -- not necessarily fluffy, yet not quite as spongey in the way quick breads are, and as sweet as a scone should be. I quite liked it. I'm just gonna call it a giant scone. It probably would have been different with the right amount of flour and without the issue I had. Maybe.
As for the brown bread, it wasn't scone-like at all, but like a hearty loaf of wheat bread. A natural sweetness coming out from the whole wheat flour and wheat bran, the flavor was there and so was the texture, in between dense and light. This would be excellent paired with a sharp cheddar.
Happy St. Patty's Day!
Sunday Best Irish Soda Bread
From The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons whole caraway seeds
Grated rind of 1 orange (my addition)
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 cups golden or dark raisins (I plumped mine in heated fresh orange juice, then drained and pat dry)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large whole egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, caraway seeds, and grated orange rind (if using) until well combined.
- Using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in the raisins until evenly distributed.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and baking soda until well combined. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour-and-butter mixture all at once, and stir with a fork until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture begins to hold together. Using your hands, press the dough into a round, dome-shaped loaf about 8 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and cream. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the loaf. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make and x-shaped slash about 1/2 inch deep into the top of the loaf. Bake, rotating halfway through, until it is a deep golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 70 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.