Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As an homage to my Irish heritage, and because I love baking, I decided to make homemade Irish Soda Bread yesterday. I followed Ina Garten’s recipe, and it turned out quite well! I made a few procedural adjustments, but other than that the recipe is identical. (Most notably, I ignored the part about an electric mixer. I don’t have a $500 Kitchen Aid, and neither did the Irish in the 1800s).
Irish Soda Bread has a savory flavor, and if you don’t like currants, you can substitute raisins. If you don’t like raisins, you can substitute golden raisins made from green grapes. If you don’t like golden raisins, you could use cranberries. If you don’t like any of those things, seriously, how picky of an eater are you?
Enough rambling. You will need:
4 cups + 1 tablespoon of flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into little chunks
1 and 3/4 cups cold buttermilk (shake the container before pouring)
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants
(optional) 1 teaspoon nutmeg – I didn’t actually add this, but thought afterwards that it would have added some flavor.
1). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix 4 cups of flour, the sugar, baking soda, and salt (and optional 1 tsp nutmeg) in a very large bowl. Add the butter (make sure it is cut into very small chunks!) and slowly work it into the flour using your hands. This will take a few minutes, and when the butter is fully worked in, you shouldn’t be able to detect any of it.
2). In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest. If you’ve never zested an orange before, just grab a cheese grater and scrap off the (washed!) outside peel. I couldn’t find my cheese grater so I used the side of a potato slicer instead. Then use a fork to lightly beat the egg into the buttermilk.
3). Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir thoroughly. You won’t be able to stir it completely, and that’s ok. In yet another, smaller bowl, mix the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the big mixture. (The flour coating makes them easier to mix in). Now that you have a very sticky, wet dough, coat your hands either with butter or flour, plunge them into your creation, and knead away until everything is completely mixed.
4). Plop the hunk of dough onto a greased (I use Pam) cookie sheet. It will be a gelatinous mess and there is nothing you can do about that. Using the biggest knife you can find, cut an X across the top of the bread – this will help it bake more evenly through the center. Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees, then *REMOVE THE BREAD* and loosely wrap a layer of aluminum foil around its circumference, taking care to leave the top of the bread exposed. I forgot to do this until the 40 minute mark, and as a result, my bread turned more brown that I would have liked. (Because Irish Soda Bread is made out of “wet” dough, a common problem is that the outside layer of the bread will burn, but the inside will stay uncooked and soggy. The foil helps to prevent this.) Then pop it back into the oven for about 35 more minutes. Do the old stick test with a knife or barbeque skewer and make sure it comes out clean. The bread should have a slightly hollow sound when you tap it.
Slather on some butter or jam, and eat it piping hot.
Bonus photo: You may have heard that every year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day they dye the Chicago river a bright neon green. Well, it took me 5 years, but I finally went down and saw it myself on Saturday!
And now it’s high time for an Irish beer. A Great Lakes Brewery Conway Irish Ale, to be exact. Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!