Saturday, March 17, 2012

IRISH SODA BREAD



Irish soda bread is a type of quick bread.  It's relatively easy to make, requires just a few ingredients, and it's inexpensive.  In Ireland it was meant to be made with ingredients that everyone had on hand at any time.  It was baked daily and sustained households which had to be frugal.  There are the soda bread purists who insist that the only ingredients which belong in the bread should be flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk.  Then there are those who add things like raisins, butter, baking powder, eggs or caraway seeds.  I am not a purist.  I brake rules.  I like raisin bread.  SO, I opted to add raisins in my soda bread. Also, I added a little butter, hoping that the extra fat will make the bread softer and help it rise more.  Sugar?  I added sugar also, just because. Actually, I always add sugar to dough since I believe it makes the final product crunchier.  Here is a confession: I've never tasted nor made soda bread before, although once I was given a freshly baked loaf as a present.  It was heavy and dense as a rock.  That put me off from a desire to make any or eat any.  Until today that is, when a cooking group I joined chose Irish soda bread as a project.  By following a few simple steps, I made a delicious Irish soda bread which I will be making again and again.  It was so quick to make, and so worth it!  A nice way to commemorate St Patrick's day! 



The group I joined is called Tuesdays with Dorie, and we'll be baking from Julia Child's book "Baking with Julia."  "Dorie" stands for Dorie Greenspan, who co-authored "Baking with Julia," hence the name of the group, Tuesdays with Dorie.    "Baking with Julia" is a wonderful cookbook, full of enticing and sophisticated recipes, demonstrated by professional bakers for the home cook. It was published in 1996, and it accompanied the television program by the same name, which was actually filmed in Julia Child's home kitchen.  I bought the book a few years ago, because I had heard about a recipe for an "upside down chiffon nectarine cake" that was included in it, so I had to find out what that was all about.  Fast forward two years later, when this cooking group was formed.  I decided to join because I want to bake some of the breads and other delicacies that are included in "Baking with Julia."  Plus, I need some help with my baking skills.  I hope that by participating I will become a better baker. 
Now let's get back to the subject at hand:  Here's how I made the Irish soda bread:


Ingredients:
4 1/2 cups of cake flour plus more for dusting 
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 cups of buttermilk at room temperature


Irish flour is soft, so I opted to use cake flour which is also soft.  All-purpose flour can be used, but not bread flour which is high in gluten, and requires yeast to rise.  In soda bread there are two ingredients that interact to cause the rising action:  bicarbonate of soda, whose pH is alkaline or basic, and buttermilk, which has an acidic pH.  The reaction starts the minute these two ingredients meet.  It's vital to work quickly and get the bread into the oven without delay so that it can rise while baking.  When making the dough no kneading is required.  Just use a light touch and mix with your fingers only.  Have every ingredient ready before beginning so that you can work fast and get that loaf into the hot oven.   


    
Directions:
  • Grease an 8 inch glass pie plate and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400° F with the rack in the middle of the oven.  Don't start making the bread until the oven is good and hot. 
  • Shift the flour, baking soda, sugar and salt.  Place the ingredients into a large bowl and add the raisins if using.  Mix them with the flour.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk, butter and raisins.  
  • With a light touch bring the flour in from the edges and mix until all the ingredients come together into a dough.  Remember that the dough should not be overworked. 
  • Place it on a floured wooden board and shape it into a round about 6 inches across.  
  • Move it to the prepared pie dish, not allowing it to touch the sides.  
  • Cut a cross in the dough about a half inch deep all the way across (helps distribute heat, keeps the top from cracking).
  • Bake for about 50 minutes until the slash widens and the bread is a nice golden brown.  When you tap the bottom and hear a hollow sound, the bread has finished cooking. 
Before cutting into slices, let the bread rest on a wire rack until it has cooled completely. 



Traditionally, the Irish have soda bread with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It's an all day bread and should be polished off the day it's made, because it does not keep well; it gets hard.  A nice way of storing it for the day is to seal it in plastic wrap and then in a clean kitchen towel.


  
***On this St Patrick's Day, God bless the Irish, and may St Paddy always intervene to help you make the best soda bread possible!*** 

 Here's Julia Child on You Tube, making the bread with Mary Cunningham:

8 comments:

  1. Greek Girl from QueensMarch 17, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    So, tell us! How did your first attempt come out? Did you enjoy it better than your first experience with soda bread? I hope so, as it's really delicious bread. If it wasn't so addictive, I'd make it a lot more frequently than I do. I love carbs, so that's a bit of a problem when trying to shed a bit of weight as I'm trying now...sigh...

    You're right about working quickly with the dough. It's the same with scones. The lighter and quicker your handling of the dough, the better the scones or the bread will turn out.

    Also, you're quite right about eating the bread on the day, if possible, as it doesn't keep fresh for very long. But wait! There's a solution to that dilemma - just pop it under the grill or in a toaster/toaster oven and have it for brekkie over the next couple of days - absolutely delicious!

    Thanks for the Julia video, too - I've not seen this one before, and I really dig Julia and her old PBS shows. Fair play to ye for your first attmept at soda bread, Ana. And I wish you some 'mighty craic' on this St. Patrick's Day.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, girl! Boy, I was really scared to taste it, but I did, and I liked it. I could have done a better job(I didn't bake it long enough),but hey, it was my first time. Next time it will be great! I had a small taste because it was getting late and I had to go to sleep, but now it's morning and I can't wait to have a proper slice for breakfast. (I did a lot of research on the internet about soda bread).
    Would you believe, I have never made scones? I either buy them or a friend I have gives me a couple of scones once in a while. She is a born baker.
    I joined this group because I thought it was time to learn to be a better baker. I guess I will be taking the stuff to work, as I can't eat sweets. Bread though is a different story. I love bread!!!

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  3. Bread, a comfort food at it best. Nice simple recipe. I think I might even be able to make it. ; )

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  4. Welcome! I have a friend in Thessaloniki!

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  5. What a lovely post! Your soda bread looks perfect. I'm sure your changes were part of the perfection. I also enjoyed your later posts which look so yummy. Hubby spent 2 years in that part of the world...so many wonderful foods to learn about and to try.

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  6. Sounds like yours turned out beautifully! It's too bad your first experience with soda bread was so off-putting.

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  7. Glad this worked out for you!
    This bread was begging to be played with - your alterations look great.

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  8. your bread looks delicious--definitely not like a rock! next time i'm going to add some dried fruit to mine, too.

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