Irish soda bread is a quick bread, which means it doesn't require any yeast or kneading to rise. Instead, it relies on baking soda and buttermilk, which interact for leavening. When the ingredients are combined, the leavening process starts immediately, so the dough should be mixed quickly -- hence the moniker "quick bread." It shouldn't be overworked, or the bread will be tough.
Given its attribution, it seems that an Irish soda bread would be a fitting recipe to post for St. Patrick's Day. However, upon some research, it appears that what we know as Irish soda bread in the U.S. is not authentically Irish. In Ireland, soda bread is a term for any bread leavened with baking soda (there, it's called bread soda). The method originated in the 19th century, when baking soda was introduced and before ovens were widely used. At the time, soda breads could be cooked in lidded cast iron pots over a fire.
Soda breads were and are efficient and simple four-ingredient brown or white breads, or flattened griddle breads. The now-familiar additions of butter, raisins and currants would have been considered luxuries for special occasions.
With all of that said, you can call it untraditional or an Americanized version if you like. No matter the moniker, it's lovely to eat -- especially when slathered with (more) butter and eaten warm from the oven.
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Irish Soda Bread
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: Makes 1 loaf
4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour with your fingers to form coarse crumbs. Mix in the raisins and caraway seeds, if using.
Whisk the buttermilk and egg in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, mix until the dough just comes together. If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour. The dough should be a little sticky.
Dust your hands with flour and briefly knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface to form a shaggy ball 8 to 9 inches wide. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, make an X incision in the top.
Bake in the oven until the bread is golden brown and a bamboo skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (If the bread begins to brown too much before it's finished, lightly cover with foil.)
Remove the bread from the oven and cool for 10 minutes on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at TasteFoodblog.com.
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