Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Untraditional" Irish Soda Bread

I know I'm a little behind the times, as St. Patrick's Day was last week, but since I was busy on the actual holiday we had our annual St. Patty's dinner a week later. Why untraditional Irish soda bread you ask? I've recently come across a wonderfully informative site called the "Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread," dedicated entirely to traditional Irish soda bread. You never know what you'll find on the internet! The recipe I'm providing below comes from Ina Garten and is far from traditional. It's actually considered a cross between a "cake" or "spotted dog," as it contains eggs, butter, and currants. Traditional Irish soda bread is made from just four simple ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) for baking was first introduced to Ireland sometime around the 1840s. It became a popular leavening substitute for yeast in breads and other baked goods for daily meals. 

That being said, I've been making this version of Irish soda bread for the last several years at our annual St. Patrick's Day dinner. I guess it's appropriate to serve this version with corned beef and cabbage, as neither are traditional Irish fare. As I've written in a previous post, in Ireland, beef would have been considered an expensive luxury, but for Irish immigrants in the U.S., corned beef was cheap. It is thought that Irish immigrants living in New York City bought corned beef from Jewish butchers and adapted it to their cuisine. 

While it may be far from the traditional breads made by Irish families living in Ireland over a century ago, there's no denying this bread is delicious. It can be made in a snap and comes out beautiful every time. It's great alongside a big (Irish-American, if you will) St. Patrick's Day feast, but I think I love it most for breakfast, toasted and smeared with butter or jam. Happy (belated) St. Patrick's Day... oh yeah and Happy Easter too!

Recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa at Home

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tbsp. extra for currants
4 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. grated orange zest (optional)
1 cup dried currants or raisins 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat and set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (if mixing by hand, combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl). Blend the dry ingredients and then add the butter, mixing on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour (if mixing by hand, use your fingers to break up the butter blend it with the flour). 

In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, beaten egg, and orange zest. Lightly beat the ingredients until blended. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture (alternatively, stir the wet ingredients into the dry using a wooden spoon). Toss the currants with 1 tbsp. of flour and mix into the dough. The dough will seem very wet.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead it a few times. Shape the dough into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared pan and lightly cut an "X" into the top of the bread using a razor blade or serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. When you tap the bottom of the loaf, it should have a hallow sound. 

Allow the loaf to cool on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Yield: 1 loaf

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