Saturday, March 9, 2013

Traditional Irish Soda Bread ....

March is that time of year when all things turn Irish. Even Easter, if it arrives early!

Food, such as this, once had a purpose. A real purpose. It was meant for sopping into hearty stews to mop up rich gravy; dipping into bacon grease after frying eggs and bacon; soaking into soups. The dense, interior texture with the crisp, chewy, outer crust, deliciously withstood such gastronomical rigors and acrobatics. Try doing any of the above with a simple piece of white bread...and it just falls apart.

Since Irish soda bread only uses four ingredients, it was simple to quickly assemble and to  have ready for supper.

Refined, soft, white flour was not a staple of Irish homesteads 150 years ago. Their flour was coarsely ground with flecks of bran. Even back then, "the white stuff" was reserved for the wealthy.

The following recipe uses bread flour with a higher concentration of glutens and less "silkiness" of white flour which will make your bread crumble as you cut it. To achieve the "coarseness," I added one cup of rye flour.

It's important not to overwork your dough. Don't worry if some of the flour remains in the bowl. Do not add any sweetener, such as brown sugar, white sugar, honey. You want the earthy grain tones in the forefront.

Some recipes call for flouring a non-greased pan before baking. Don't. There's nothing worse than the flavor of burnt flour. Use a sheet of parchment paper.

This loaf will produce a tender-chewy outer crust and hearty interior. DO NOT, under any circumstances, attempt to cut this or any loaf of bread while it is hot from the oven. Once removed from the oven, it's important for the bread to "steam." Cutting it, releases that steam which results in a dry loaf.

Even one-day old and wrapped in cling-wrap, the bread will retain a toned-down crispy crust. It makes for wonderful sandwiches.

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour mixed with 1 cup rye flour for a total of 16 ounces*
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose salt
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk (be sure to shake it before using) plus 1-2 tablespoons set aside

You will need a LARGE bowl for the mixing.

Place dry ingredients in a bowl. Using your hand, whisk your fingers through the flour to incorporate salt and soda.

Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk.

Make your hand into a "claw" with outstretched fingers and begin mixing in a circular motion from the center to the outside of the bowl. Yes, it's messy. This should take no more than 15 seconds or so. If necessary add another tablespoon or two of buttermilk.

Tip the dough onto a flour-covered board. Begin shaping by cupping the mound of dough between your palms as you turn turn turn on the board to form a soft ball. Tuck under any loose ends.

Gently pat the ball to form into a seven-inch circle. You want a disk about 1 1/2 - 2 inches thick. Place disk on a parchment-paper baking sheet. Brush with additional buttermilk.

It is traditional to "bless" the bread by cutting a cross into it about 1/2 inch deep. Make a slash in each quadrant to allow "the evil fairies to escape" so the bread has a nice rise as it bakes.

Place in center of a 450 F degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 400 and continue to bake another 15-20 minutes.

Turn over bread and continue to bake another 5-10 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped.

The underside.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the loaf in half and then begin slicing from the heel.

*Or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole-wheat flour or rye flour for a total of 16 ounces.

"Americanized" Irish soda breads are sweet with the addition of sugar, eggs and dried fruit. That recipe can be found here: Kitchen Bounty: Irish Soda Bread.

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