St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, and what better way to celebrate Irish heritage than some warm, homemade Irish soda bread washed down with some good Irish beer — or whiskey? Your friends will be impressed, and if you pace your drinking right, you just might be able to prevent a hangover. Maybe.
Irish soda bread is also a great idea for when you’ve got the munchies.
In New York in 2013, Darina Allen, Ireland’s homegrown legendary chef, demonstrated the making of Irish soda bread to national magazine food editors as the star of Kerrygold’s annual St. Patrick’s Day media event.
While making soda bread wasn’t something new to the group, Darina’s technique certainly stood out. They watched mesmerized as Darina, using an outstretched hand and a circular motion, quickly and efficiently gathered the dry and wet ingredients in the bowl to form a dough in less than five minutes.
True Irish soda bread remains an international breakfast and brunch favorite.
Bicarbonate of soda was first was introduced to Ireland in the mid-1800’s, so the bread is hundreds, not thousands of years old. Irish Soda Bread is a traditional product of necessity — poor rural households needed a bread that used a small amount of ingredients — and Irish soda bread is a perfect recipe, using only flour, baking soda (used as a leavening agent), sour milk to moisten and activate the soda, and salt.
Superstition also plays a part in the history of this bread — after it was shaped, bakers would cut a cross across the top. Irish soda bread tends to go bad within a few days. It goes well with a main course of mutton, lamb or a hearty stew.
13 to 16 ounces buttermilk (depending on the consistency of the buttermilk)
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Mix the flours in a large wide bowl, add the salt and sieved baking soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the salt and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and pour in all the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched, stir in a circular movement from the center to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl, seconds later the dough should be made.
Sprinkle a little flour on the worktop. Turn the dough out onto the floured worktop. (Fill the bowl with cold water so it will be easy to wash later.)
Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Gently tidy the dough around the edges and transfer to oven tray. Tuck the edges underneath with your hand; gently pat the dough with your fingers into a loaf about 1 1/2-inch thick. Now wash and dry your hands.
Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called ‘blessing the bread’ and then prick it in the center of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread).
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 400°F for a further 15 or 20 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Cool on a wire rack.
Brown Soda Bread: Replace half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour.
Dubliner Soda Bread: Before baking, brush loaf with egg wash (egg beaten with a little milk) and sprinkle with shredded Dubliner cheese.
Cheese Scones: After the soda bread has been shaped, flatten it out and cut into pieces to form scones. Brush tops with egg wash (egg beaten with a little milk), dip tops into shredded Dubliner cheese and bake, cheese-side up, 10 minutes in a 450° F oven; cook on wire rack.
An energetic teacher, Darina Allen is the owner of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland. (She is also a food writer, newspaper columnist, cookbook author and television presenter.) She practices her craft at the world-renowned cookery school. It is the only one in the world located in the middle of its own 100-acre organic farm.