Although it’s nearly two week’s after the holiday, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my belated tribute to the Irish: sweet, dense soda bread. Sadly, with nothing to recommend St. Patrick’s Day here in the land of the rising sun, and even despite my quarter-self given to Irish heritage, March 17th quite passed my notice entirely! But when I began my research on locating a suitable soda bread recipe, it seemed the culinary world had not forgotten the happy green day as I had, and it was a pleasure to peruse the assorted loaves: some craggly, some smooth, some studded with currants or nuts or laced with sharp caraway seeds, but all engraved with a deep cross on top. Yet the more loaves I visually devoured, I was surprised to find that the rich, butter and eggs glorified scone version I thought to be the traditional soda bread seemed to be actually more of an American embellishment. The most basic recipe I found claiming authenticity was simply four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I was genuinely curious then to find out where, in this spectrum of soda breads, the true, authentic Irish notion lay…
* * * * *
I sent an inquiring email to my good friend, a fellow JET and Irishman himself, to ask his opinion and personal taste in a food marked with such national pride. And in his experience, growing up with homemade loaves from his grandmother and mother’s kitchen, using eggs did not make it any less authentic by any means. He surmised that eggs and/or butter were traditionally not used due to poverty in the country, rather than particulars of taste. Using butter and eggs would certainly have been a luxury at that time, I imagine.
So, in the end I decided to work from a basic recipe and took only modest liberties with some add-ins: continuing with the dried-fruits-in-breads-kick, I tossed in a generous quarter-cup of raisins, mixed a tablespoon of milk with yogurt for buttermilk, and added a scant tablespoon of sugar for some added sweetness. And since there’s only one of me, I cut down the recipe’s original call for 4 cups of flour down to just over one :) And out of the oven came a beautiful, golden, raisin-full loaf of sweet soda bread, perfect for breakfast spread with a spoonful of the homemade marmalade, its citrus-punch mellowed with a few days in the fridge and cutting the sweetness of the bread delightfully.
In other news, it is incumbent for me to announce a most grievous development in my kitchen: my incredible three-in-one toaster, oven, and microwave has lost its spark of life. As soon as I’d pulled out the tray of cornbread I’d baked to go with an easy Sunday soup for dinner, the little screen sputtered and faded, the buttons lost their familiar beep, and the whole thing turned instantly into a lifeless heap of metal. I have been utterly at a loss the past two days, remiss without the aid of my faithful undercook. Needless to say, it’s put a dent in my plans for an elaborate Easter dinner in two weeks. I am taking all immediate steps to replace the beloved piece, but in the meantime, I shall have to explore more free-range baking and cooking endeavors! But for everyone else with a happily functioning oven and toaster and microwave, happy baking to you :)
Raisin-studded Irish Soda Bread
200 grams flour (1 2/3 Cup)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
175 ml buttermilk, or yogurt mixed with 1-2 tablespoons milk (3/4 Cup)
1/4 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 230˚C (450˚F). In a bowl, combine flour, soda, salt, and sugar and whisk to combine. Toss in raisins to coat. Measure out buttermilk/yogurt and pour into the dry ingredients. Stir gently with a spatula until mixture just comes together, being careful not to overwork dough. On a lightly floured surface, shape dough into a disk and with a sharp knife cut a large “X” on top. This helps distribute heat evenly throughout the bread through the baking process.
Bake bread for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 200˚C (400˚F) and bake for another 30 minutes, or until bread is golden and tester comes out clean. Put foil over bread if the crust begins to brown early. And at my friend’s suggestion, place a tea-towel over the loaf once it is out of the oven to prevent the crust from drying out and hardening.
Makes one small, beautiful loaf of bread!