St. Patrick’s Day is just ahead, so it’s time to cook up a wee bit of Irish. If you plan to make corned beef with cabbage or a hearty Irish stew, Irish soda bread is a great accompaniment.
This round loaf bearing the characteristic cross is one of the easiest breads to make.
It is perfect for dunking into a bowl of your favorite stew made Irish easy with a generous helping of chopped fresh green parsley over the top.
The hardest part of making Irish soda bread is deciding which recipe or rendition to use.
I figure there are as many versions of Irish soda bread as there are Irish cooks.
The bread is a sturdy round loaf marked with a cross cut into the top.
As it cooks, the surface hardens, spreading the cuts into deep troughs perfect for melting knobs of butter into when the bread emerges from the oven.
I love the way the bread parts into four sections, each one rising into a small crusty mountain as it bakes.
Making the cross in the top seems an appropriate opportunity as a cook to acknowledge the spiritual connection to Lent.
I’ve long felt a connection with my faith while making bread; perhaps it is the transformation of grain to flour, flour to bread and bread to sustain life.
The breaking of bread itself before Holy Communion holds great significance.
Then there are the recipes.
I found more than 20 varied recipes for Irish soda bread among one shelf of cookbooks in my kitchen.
There are several common ingredients: flour, soda, buttermilk, butter, wee bits of sugar and salt.
Longtime Tulsa author and cooking instructor Mary Gubser included the Irish soda bread recipe from the School of Cooking at Ballymaloe, Ireland, in her “Quick Breads Soups and Stews” book.
The recipe uses baking soda and baking powder.
All of the recipes included making the cross cuts through the ball of dough prior to oven time.
Some included an egg, while others included molasses and oats for sweetness and texture.
Currants, raisins, walnuts and even crisp bits of bacon punctuated the dough.
Caraway seeds along with oat bran were sometimes imbedded into the dough or crust before baking.
There is plenty of room to get creative with the add-ins and with variations of flour.
My favorite combination uses half whole-wheat and half all-purpose flour. I, of course, recommend using local flours, buttermilk and butter.
Soaking the raisins or currants in whiskey or Irish Mist liqueur came as a suggestion from my son-in-law, whose maternal grandmother emigrated from Ireland to Boston.
She used the whiskey soak as a special way to plump the raisins going into soda bread.
Whether you decide to make bread as part of your Lenten practice or just to have something special for dunking into a bowl of stew, I recommend trying a simple Irish soda bread. The dough is quite forgiving. You can practice kneading until the dough becomes elastic and smooth. You will delight in its expansion during baking. Most of all, you’ll be rewarded with the sublime experience of steamy warm bread fresh from your oven.
Irish Soda Bread with Oats
2 1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned or Irish oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins or currants, soaked in Irish Mist or whiskey (optional; see cooking notes)
•Organize oven rack to middle position with baking stone to preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare baking sheet with parchment sprinkled with additional oatmeal or corn meal. Sift all-purpose flour with salt, soda and cream of tartar. Mix with whole-wheat flour.
•Measure liquid ingredients. Combine melted butter, molasses and 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk. Drain raisins or currants if using and stir them into the dry
•Combine liquids with dry ingredients and mix well. Knead for several minutes, adding 1/4 cup of milk if needed to
•The dough should be soft but not sticking to hands. Knead for 2 to 5
•Place ball of dough on prepared
•Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and place thin pats of butter in crevices to melt while dough is warm. Serve bread warm or at room temperature.
Cooking notes: Measure flours
Source: Sherrel Jones