Every March I seem to forget when St. Patrick’s day paints the town green and leprechauns hide around every corner. It’s possible I washed away the holiday spirit with too many “car bombs” in college, got tired of searching for my pot of gold, or never had roots in this tradition in the first place. But that is what food with roots is all about, isn’t? Discovering how a recipe, dish or ingredient comes alive with the people and places in your own life! And so, here are my newfound roots in Irish Soda Bread.
Recently I was introduced by email to Amy Halloran, a writer and teacher who is wildly fanatic about wheat and grains, especially pancakes. Her passion for all-things-gluten led her to Wide Awake Bakery and the Finger Lakes’ local grain mill, Farmer Ground Flour, to whom she pledges her flour-loyalty. Amy and I had been exchanging emails on the art of pancakes (as I develop the new breakfast menu for a Purity Ice Cream’s new brunch restaurant). And then suddenly it was March, and the next email from Amy included her primer on Biscuits and Quick Breads for an upcoming class. I started to pay attention, and saw Irish Soda Bread popping up in every newsletter, blog post, and menu in my world. My friend Jess proposed a St. Paddy’s Party, with her Irish granny’s original Irish Soda Bread recipe, along with cabbage, corned beef hash and chocolate-guinness stout cake. Yes please! I became hooked.
I’ve never really been a fiend for the sour spritz in Irish Soda Bread, but am more drawn to it’s beautiful, crumbly nature. And of course, that it’s a “quick bread.” This is particularly appealing for non-bakers like myself. It doesn’t require overnight rising or pampering the dough. A quick bread generally involves mixing a bowl of dry ingredients, a bowl of wet ingredients, mixing them together, and dumping them in a greased pan to bake for less than an hour. How easy it seemed! I also learned that Irish Soda Bread was developed because of the limitations in the Irish pantry during hard times. The only staples they might have had were buttermilk (or curdled milk), flour, sugar, rising agents, and butter.
This is a perfect recipe for proving my theory that when you “power your pantry” you can make nearly anything from scratch without dashing out to the grocery store! Any extra bits and pieces lying around can be added to make it yours: raisins and nuts, caraway and bits of onion, berries and zest. As I scoured recipes from Amy, America’s Test Kitchen and The Kitchn, I came up with a recipe that matched the ingredients I had on hand this Saturday morning, adding a more nutty, power-bread kick that veers away from the classic “spritz.” The use of all-purpose Farmer Ground Flour adds an earthier, whole grain flavor as well. I made my own buttermilk by combining 1% milk with apple cider vinegar, I used the all-purpose flour I had on-hand (even though this recipe often calls for “softer” cake flour or pastry flour), and I added a combination of raisins, toasted almonds, and sunflower seeds. The next batch will be blueberry-cardamom-coconut.
If I made this batch again, I might bake it in a bread pan to allow for a higher-rising loaf. The dutch oven I used was a bit too large for the quantity of dough I had. But truth be told, these little mishaps are part of any kitchen adventure and the final product is still divine alone or lathered with butter and jam. The crust is hard and crunchy, and the inside is soft and airy. It reminds me of a scone, with less sugar and more versatility. A melted hunk of cheddar with a good dollop of chutney would be heaven on my tongue. Try it at home.
Happy St. Paddy’s Day to those celebrating with stout!
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If you have buttermilk on hand, you can replace the milk and apple cider vinegar with 1 cup buttermilk. As for "scoring" the bread, this creates an intentional weak spot that helps control the direction in which the loaf expands. Serve a slice warm out of the oven, or if cooled, toast before serving. It is unrivaled when warm, with it's crusty shell.
- 1 cup milk (whole or skim)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (sub with lemon juice or white vinegar)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar (sub with any white sugar)
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cold
- 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dried coconut (large ribbons or small shreds)
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet or dutch oven.
- In a small bowl, stir together the milk and apple cider vinegar. You are creating your own buttermilk! Let stand while you prepare the dough.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Chop the butter into pieces and add to the flour mixture, working into the flour with your hands to form coarse crumbs.
- Add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk together.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to stir and fold the ingredients gently, until a shaggy, wet batter has been formed. Gently stir in your variation ingredients.
- Transfer the dough to your greased skillet or dutch oven, and use your spatula to form the dough into a round shape about 6-7 inches across. Use a knife to draw a cross in the center, "scoring" the dough. This will create a "weak" spot that will control the direction the bread expands.
- Bake for 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the bread has formed a dome-like shape. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing.
- You can also freeze for up to 3 months by wrapping the loaf in plastic wrap and then sealing in a large Freezer Ziploc.
Love soda bread so much it's become a weekly treat? Keep a boxed mix in your pantry for convenience and cravings.