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Irish soda bread remains a St. Patrick's Day staple

Sherrel Jones shares a recipe for Irish soda bread.
BY SHERREL JONES Published: March 14, 2012
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Far from a uniform elegant loaf, Irish soda bread surely comes in as many versions as there are Irish cooks. No doubt the original soda breads were from humble beginnings. I call it bread for cooks who fear baking yeast breads or bread for the yeast-challenged cook.

Sour milk and soda give this bread rise while the oven brings it to a crusty-on-the-outside finish with a spongy sort of interior. Made with lovely fresh-ground Oklahoma wheat flour, Irish soda bread is worth making outside of St. Patrick's Day. It is perfect for sopping up your favorite beefy stew or making any meal special with hot homemade bread.

Practically every March, I get out a variety of Irish soda bread recipes to decide which one I am going to make on St. Patrick's Day. Over the years I have collected several dozen.

I will tell you it is easy to bake what I refer to as the Notre Dame version: It could be passed around a football field several times before anyone would know it is not a pigskin. Like most recipes when baked in a wide range of ovens, baking times vary. The soda bread baking times do seem a bit longer than necessary.

Traditionally, Irish soda bread has only the sour milk or buttermilk, flour, salt and soda: a very simple mixture barely kneaded together and baked. Think of it as a big round biscuit with a cross cut into the top.

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Simple Irish Soda Bread

This four-ingredient bread is great if you want something homemade and quick. It doesn't require yeast and depends on baking soda and sour milk to give it rise. It is best served warm with a piping hot bowl of soup or stew. Once the bread is cooled, it tends to harden quickly.

1 cup whole-wheat flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups buttermilk

1½ teaspoons baking soda

Adjust oven rack to lower middle and preheat to 350 degrees. Measure, then blend, dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Blend the dry ingredients together with the buttermilk to incorporate them well.

Flour hands, and knead 4 or 5 times until dough is smooth. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet or one covered with baking parchment or a silicone mat. Shape dough into a large ball and flatten slightly.

Make 2 cuts (½- to ¾-inch deep) into the center of the dough to form a cross. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until crust begins to brown. Check to be sure bread is done in center by pressing slightly or inserting a knife. The dough should spring back slightly or the knife should come out clean.

This bread can be brushed with melted butter and sprinkled lightly with kosher salt when it comes out of the oven. Cut in wedges and serve warm.

Cook's notes: Add a tablespoon of sugar if desired. (This bread relies on the wheat itself for flavor along with the salt, so I like to use great Oklahoma whole-wheat flour from Stone Stack Mill or Fairview's Best.) Make your own buttermilk as needed for recipes: Stir 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar into each cup of milk.

Source: Sherrel Jones

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