Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Irish Soda Bread with Dried Fruit and Caraway

A true Irish soda bread uses whole-grained flours, not white, and little, if any, sugar (it's actually quite bland). Instead of yeast, which was not readily available to then-poor agrarian farmers, baking soda was used. When combined with acidic buttermilk, the chemical reaction caused the bread to rise. Just be sure your baking soda is fresh.

In Britain, the addition of eggs and some sort of fat would constitute a "cake" rather than a "bread." Hence, this is sometimes called a "railway cake" sturdy enough to take the travails of travel.

This loaf is particularly good lightly toasted and spread with cream cheese. It’s really quite easy to make. British counterparts would call for dried currants. I settled for American dried sweet cranberries. I steeped both the berries and raisins in a cup of boiling water to plump them up. I drained them in a sieve and then rolled them on a cloth towel to dry as much as possible. (Some people would use a hot, strong cup of leftover tea. I've done that, but it really does not impart any flavor.) Don't omit the caraway. (If you can find them, use baking raisins which are already plump and juicy).

One could, of course, free-form the loaf into a rustic sphere or boule and bake in the oven. Or one could, I guess, use loaf pans. I have done neither.

Just about any dried fruit would work here. I've also
used golden raisins.

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups raisins, (not recommended) or a combination of raisins and dried cranberries and other dried fruits (highly recommended) that includes dried cherries and if possible, dried citron
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Fresh grated orange peel from 1/2 orange (optional but highly recommended)

Before making the bread, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cast iron skillet or a 9-inch high-sided round baking or cake pan. I  use an 8 x 11 cast-iron, enamel-lined Dutch oven

Have your pan well greased and ready to go. As soon
as you add the buttermilk, the batter will begin to rise
and you don't want it sitting around.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour (reserving 1 tablespoon), sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins and caraway seeds. In a small bowl, blend eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture into the flour mixture just until the flour is moistened. Knead dough in bowl about 10 to 12 strokes. Dough will be very wet and sticky. Place the dough in the prepared skillet or pan and pat down with moist hands. Cut a 4-inch long x 3/4-inch deep slit or incision in the top of the bread. Dust with reserved flour.

For this batch, I grated in some orange peel
from half an orange I had in the fridge.

The batter will be very thick. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 60-75 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 F. This is a wet dough, hence the long baking time. Let cool a bit and turn bread onto a wire rack to cool.

This was delicious and is a perfect breakfast
with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

TIP: Dried fruits are readily available around Christmas. I suggest you buy extra to store for recipes such as this. 


Cwags said...

I am going to have to try this today - it looks wonderful! Perfect day for it - rainy, gloomy, and too cool for March in NC!

Lots of news from our front...we should try to get together before we move again. I start my new teaching gig in August! Would LOVE to see you.

ozmkt said...

Mine is always crumbly. Any suggestions?

Kitchen Bounty said...

Avoid over mixing or kneading.