Saturday, March 17, 2007

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

The New York Times ran an article this week about traditional Irish soda bread - or rather, they ran an article that discussed how the loaf presented as "traditional" in the US is often not. The author's loaf had butter, sugar and eggs in it, as well as raisins, and turned into a very cake-like loaf. I myself am guilty, to a degree, of making a less-than-traditional loaf. I don't use butter or eggs, but I usually add a bit of sugar, caraway seeds and raisins. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, it is good to know that the Irish soda bread that I typically make is a variation on the standard, not the standard itself.
The article hinted at the fact that the traditional recipe used only flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda, but for some reason failed to include the recipe (it did include the cake-like version, however). I thought I'd step up and fill in the gap. I took out all the extraneous ingredients from my usual recipe and whittled it down to a plain, basic traditional loaf.
The bread is best when it is warm and comes out of the oven with a crisp crust and a tender interior. It is easy to taste the buttermilk in the loaf, but it is very plain bread. I like it with soup, where it can sop up broth, or cut into slices (I often simply pull pieces off the loaf) and topped with butter or jam. Irish butter is usually salted and will taste better with the bread than unsalted butter.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 - 1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir together. Add buttermilk and mix with a large spoon (or with your hands, shaping your fingers into a "claw") until the dough comes together. You might need two tablespoons more or less buttermilk depending on the weather. The dough should be moist, but not so sticky it is very hard to handle.
Shape into a round and place on baking sheet. Cut an X into the top with a sharp knife and bake for about 45 minutes, until dark golden. A toothpick will come out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before slicing. Bread is best served soon after baking.