With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, today is a great day for some traditional Irish Soda Bread. This is, without a doubt, the easiest, fastest bread recipe I have. I know a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of making bread (I used to avoid it at all costs), what with all the rising and shaping. If you’re one of those people, this is a great way to introduce yourself to bread baking.
Irish soda bread isn’t just great because of how easy it is to make, but also because of how great it tastes. It’s a very basic quick bread, which makes it perfect to accompany soups and stews, but it’s also sturdy enough to hold up as a sandwich. It’s taste and texture are very much like that of biscuits, so it’s delicious for breakfast as well. It has really basic ingredients that everyone has on hand. You can see why it would become so popular among the poor and starving Irish of famine and war days gone by. One loaf would feed the entire family at every meal, if they were fortunate enough to have all of the ingredients.
This particular recipe has a few more ingredients than a truly traditional soda bread, but it is still a classic. To get started you need butter, sugar, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, cake flour, all purpose flour, and buttermilk (or cultured buttermilk powder and water).
Cultured buttermilk? See, I don’t keep fresh buttermilk on hand, and when I buy it for a recipe, most of it goes to waste because nobody around here likes it. You usually only need a small amount for a recipe, so unless you feel like making a whole bunch of other things that need buttermilk, I’d recommend this stuff. It’s basically powdered buttermilk and it’s excellent. You use one tablespoon of powder to a quarter cup of water, so it’s easy math if you need more. In this case, we need one and a half cups, so that’s six tablespoons of powder. When you use it, just add the powder in with all of the other dry ingredients, then add the water in place of the buttermilk.
Back to our bread…
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl (including the powdered buttermilk, if using). Add the butter in chunks and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers until there are no large pieces of butter left.
Add the buttermilk (or the 1 1/2 cups of water, if using the powder) to the mixture and stir with a fork until everything just comes together. Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and gently work it into a cohesive dough.
The crust is soft with a slight crisp, rather than being crunchy or chewy like a lot of yeast breads. We enjoyed this last night, in place of naan, with butter chicken curry and it was delicious! It’s an excellent bread for dipping. For St. Pat’s, I’ll be serving it with beef stew and I can hardly wait!!
If you want to venture into bread making for the first time, or you just need some fresh bread fast, try this recipe out, you won’t be sorry! It only take about 10 minutes to mix and shape it, then it’s just a matter of waiting while it bakes and cools. And it’s very much worth the wait! Enjoy!
Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into slices and softened
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 6 tablespoons cultured buttermilk powder and 1 1/2 cups water)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Preheat the oven 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together. Using your hands, work the softened butter into the flour mixture into there are no longer any large clumps left. Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork until a dough just begins to form. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead gently for about 12 to 14 turns, until you have a cohesive, bumpy dough. Shape the dough into a 6″ circle that is about 2″ high, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and score the top with an “X” shape.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the inside temperature is 180 degrees.
Brush the top of the bread with the melted butter and transfer it to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before serving.
adapted from Baking Illustrated