This is the time of year to celebrate the luck of the Irish with a piping, hot loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Enjoy the savory slices slathered with butter and a cup of tea, or break chunks off the rustic loaf to mop up hearty beef or lamb stews. Delicious, no matter how you slice it, Irish Soda Bread is a simple, Irish classic and the principal, freshly baked bread in many households.
The humble soda bread was the solution to food insecurity throughout the history of the Irish people. However it was the Native Americans that first developed the technique of using pearl ash, the natural form of soda formed from wood ashes, to leaven bread without yeast. When baking soda or bicarbonate soda was first introduced in the 1830’s, the remaining three basic ingredients of Irish Soda bread; soft wheat flour, salt, and sour milk, were combined and baked into a bread that kept thousands of Irish people from starvation.
Almost every family has its own formula for this delicious bread, and this recipe comes from my travels with First Lady Karen Baldacci. I first enjoyed the unique taste of this quick bread on an economic trade mission to Ireland. The countryside was beautiful, the people generous and friendly. And the food was great!
The cuisines of Maine and Ireland share many common themes, with cooking ingredients centered on those items harvested and produced by local fisheries and farms. While Irish Soda Bread is a symbol of celebration and baked in droves leading up to Saint Patrick’s Day, this bread is truly a household staple.
Often baked in iron pots or on griddles, Irish soda bread has a distinctive texture and crust that can be duplicated in a cast-iron fry pan. This recipe version is known as the “spotted” dog, as it contains seeds and raisins. The added ingredients could also include nuts, candied orange peel, currants or dried cranberries.
Before baking the soft loaf, the top of the bread is marked with a cross. This unique Irish superstition wards off evil spirits in the house, and “let’s the fairies out”. These lucky fairies are welcome to bake Irish Soda Bread any day in my house.
IRISH SODA BREAD
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2- cup whole-wheat flour plus more for shaping
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1- teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 1/3- cup sesame seeds
- 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3- cup raisins plumped in hot water
- 1 egg
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
- Assemble ingredients and tools. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a cookie pan, 10-inch cake pan or 10-inch skillet.
- Plump the raisins: Pour hot water over raisins and let sit to plump. Drain and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or your fingers cut in the butter until well incorporated. (A food processor works well for this also).
- Stir in the sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and raisins. In a 2 cup measure, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir.
- Turn the mixture out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Using a dough scraper, knead and shape the dough into a 10-inch circle and transfer to the baking pan. The dough will be very soft, and the loaf will look rustic.
- Mark the top with a cross-shaped indentation. Bake in the center of the oven until the bread is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 35 – 45 minutes.
- Let cool on a rack.
- To serve, cut into quarters and slice the quarters with a sharp bread knife.