Monday, March 7, 2011

Let The Blarney Begin: Real Irish Soda Bread is Not What You Think; Raisins? Begorrah!!

I decided to try a couple of different Irish Soda Bread recipes this month because St. Patricks's Day is March 17th, because I'm Irish and because I couldn't remember if I'd ever made it before, three good reasons!

When we were in Ireland, we never saw Irish Soda bread on a menu or had it served. Instead, a plain but delicious brown bread was offered at breakfast, lunch and dinner and we grew to love it.

Last night, I looked up a few recipes and was amazed to find a bit of a war going on between soda bread 'purists' and the rest of us. It seems that true Irish Soda Bread does not contain raisins. In fact, if your "soda bread" has raisins, it's called "Spotted Dog" or "Railway Cake"! If it contains raisins, eggs, baking powder, sugar or shortening, it's called "cake", not "bread."  All are tasty, but traditional Irish Soda Bread has just four simple ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk.

Some other things NOT in Irish Soda Bread (with notations) are in the attached link:
  • "zest", orange or any other kind
  • Irish Whiskey.  (talk about stereotyping!!!)
  • Honey (substitute for sugar)
  • Sugar (see definition of "cake")
  • eggs (see definition of "cake")
  • Garlic  (not common in English/Irish dishes)
  • Shortening (hydrogenated vegetable oil - Crisco introduced to the US in 1911.  Not in the 19th century)
  • Double Cream (British term for "Heavy Cream" but a little thicker.  Not much chance irish peasants would be using this.)
  • Sour Cream (traditional in Eastern European dishes.  Became popular in the US and European kitchens during the past 50 years, not 150 years ago. see
  • Yogurt (prior to 1900 a staple in Central Europe and Asia.  Introduced to the US after WWII by Isaac Carasso who started Dannon in NY City.  Not a 19th century Irish baking item.)
  • Chocolate
  • Chiles/Jalapenos (Right! Ireland is well known for using these in its traditional food!! por favor!
  • Fruit (Only in Christmas/Easter cakes and other special occasions.
I gave the traditional recipe a try today and it basically was like a giant biscuit and unlike most of the breads I've had here over the years. Pretty to look at and tasty too! There is another bread that's more cake like and I'll give that recipe a try later this week.

Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups low fat buttermilk

  • In a large bowl, stir dry ingredients together with a whisk. Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk, reserving 1/2 cup. Combine dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork, gradually adding more of the remaining liquid until a soft dough is formed.
  • Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface for 1 minute. Form into a slightly flattened circle. Place on a parchment lined (or silicone baking mat) cookie sheet. Mark a large 1/2-inch deep X with a sharp knife and bake soda bread for 40-45 minutes. The bread is ready when it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • NOTE: Folklore says the x (cross) on the top of the soda bread was to let out the faerie evils from the loaf before it went in to the oven! In truth the cross is just to help the bread cook evenly!

Yield 1 round loaf (8-10 wedges or slices).

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