Soda bread makes St. Patrick's Day dining pop

Sherrel Jones shares a recipe for traditional Irish soda bread in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
By Sherrel Jones, sherrel@justdelish.com Published: March 12, 2014
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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.

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Irish Soda Bread with Oats

Enjoy this bread any time of day. It is great for dipping into a bowl of hot Irish stew or served alongside other dishes. You can use all white flour, if desired, or other flours can be substituted in part to add a rustic touch to the bread. Try rye flour in lieu of whole wheat and sprinkle the bread with caraway seeds.

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 ingredients to coat.

•Combine liquids with dry ingredients and mix well. Knead for several minutes, adding 1/4 cup of milk if needed to incorporate into a smooth dough using floured hands. (Depending on the moisture content of the flours, more or less milk may be needed to form the dough.)

•The dough should be soft but not sticking to hands. Knead for 2 to 5 minutes on floured surface until smooth ball can be formed.

•Place ball of dough on prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly. Score with very sharp knife in a cross, cutting about 1/2-inch deep.

•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 carefully, lifting and fluffing to avoid compacting during measuring. To soak raisins or currants, place them in a small plastic resealable bag and pour 2 tablespoons of liqueur or whiskey over them. They can soak overnight for best results.

Source: Sherrel Jones

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