March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day, is a day of fun, Irish heritage celebrated with parades, some green drinks (for the newly 21 year olds’) Irish Whiskey, singing old folk songs, men playing the bag pipes and most importantly some delicious Irish food.
Irish food is very hearty and full of flavor. It not only incorporates meat, potatoes and vegetables, but it also incorporates a delicious dense bread-Irish Soda Bread. This is s very quick bread to make and is a terrific party pleaser. You may serve this with some hearty beef or lamb stew or served with some smoked salmon, fresh dill and chive butter as an appetizer to go with your favorite beverage.
This is a very popular bread, even though being an Irish traditional food has only been around since 1840, when bicarbonate of soda was first introduced there. At first, the essential ingredients were a very basic recipe of flour, bicarbonate of soda, sour milk and salt. Now there are many variations incorporating ingredients like dried fruits, caraway seeds and other seeds. I personally enjoy this bread by adding some of the natural sweetness from an equal mix of dried cranberries and dried raisins. A little sweetness goes well with the saltiness of the smoked salmon. But you may omit the dried fruit (Any kind will work) if you choose so.
Soda bread is shaped in different shapes based on the region of Ireland in which it is being prepared. In the Southern regions it is shaped and baked as a round loaf with a cross marked on top. The cruciform shape cut on top of the loaf had a religious symbolic note of crossing and the breaking of the bread and giving thanks. But the deeply cut top with a cross on the top is actually there to let the bread stretch and expand as it rises in the oven. And if you want to serve a rustic style meal, it makes it easier to break the bread. In the North regions of the country, the soda bread is flattened into a round disc and divided into four equal triangular shapes; each triangle is then cooked on a flat griddle. This method of cooking the soda bread is very quick. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the base of the baking soda to provide the bread’s leavening, therefore no yeast is needed, and no waiting for the dough to rise!
Most breads require a lot of muscle power and time. Although this delicious loaf is very kind to your arms and to your timeline. Since you are not using yeast, there is no waiting for the dough to rise, allowing you enough time to serve freshly baked, warm bread to your family and guests. Breads made with yeast require more kneading work, allowing time for the dough to rise, punching the dough back down, kneading and waiting for it to rise again-gee, I’m exhausted from just writing about the steps let alone actually preparing it! The dried fruits give it that small sweetness that everyone enjoys and it actually balanced out the smokiness and saltiness of the salmon. If you happen to have any leftover bread, you can serve it the next morning with your eggs, yum!
But Saint Patrick’s Day is not the only day to prepare this tasty bread. You can and should make this as often as you can because, well, you know exactly what ingredients are in your bread and it’ll always be fresh bread. Besides the wholesomeness of this bread, your kitchen will smell amazing! There is no better scent than that of something baking in the oven, perfuming your entire home. If you are pressed for time, you can always make several loafs and freeze them for your next meal. Just allow them to defrost overnight in your refrigerator.
So, have a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, watch the parade, eat some delicious food and Irish Soda Bread, drink responsibly and as always, Enjoy!
Irish Soda Bread with Raisins
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for raisins
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 grated orange zest from 1 orange
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried raisins
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Place the dried raisins and cranberries into a small bowl of warm water to soften them for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the raisins and cranberries with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet. This helps prevent the raisins to not sink to the bottom.
Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife.Coating your knife with some flour helps the knife not to stick to the dough. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- For the Crostini:
- 1⁄2 cup butter , softened (1 stick)
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- 8 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
- Fresh Dill, for garnish
Mix the softened butter with the chives. Slice the soda bread into slices and toast either in the broiler or in a toaster. Top each slice with the butter and top with the smoked salmon. Cut the slices into half or thirds. Garnish each piece with some fresh dill.