Irish Soda Bread
Of all the amazing baked delicacies travelers find in Ireland, it's the simple, fresh scratch
soda breads that are the most impressive. Every baker has his own "house" recipe
and it changes with different varieties. Authentic Brown Soda Bread is made with special
Irish wheat has a lower protein content which makes it softer wheat. Traditional loaves
are shaped in a round loaf with a cross on top, but you will often see loaves and other shapes.
Buttermilk is an essential ingredient in Irish Soda bread, the lactic acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda, which causes it to rise. Experts say to put the bread in the oven quickly to activate the rising before the gas escapes. I tested several recipes from various sources including King Arthur, The Best of Irish Breads and Baking, and Baking Illustrated. Here are the tips I learned along the way.
1. When I think of rustic baking at its best that's what I think of when I think of Irish soda bread.
The flour does make a difference, in Ireland I remember the bakers talking about the soft wheat because of all the rain that they get in Ireland. It made sense to me. Most recipes feature Irish brown bread which is made with whole grains and whole wheat flour.
2. Irish soda bread is a lot like making biscuits and scones, you have to have a very light hand with the mixing otherwise the gluten will make the loaf tough, and also they are best eaten the day they're baked just like scones and biscuits.
3. If you wanted a soft crust on your Irish soda bread wrap it in a towel or slather butter on the top of it to soften it some recipes I saw said to let it cure 4 hours before eating it I thought that was kind of odd since you needed to eat at the same day you baked it.
4. I also read where it could be baked in a Dutch oven much like the no-knead bread.
5. Additives in the old days cooks who were thrifty would add whatever grains they had around to their bread to being frugal with ingredients so some recipes you see will have oatmeal, oat bran, pinhead oats AKA steel-cut oatmeal. So be creative with adding whole grains, it will give your bread personality.
6. You don't have to be exact with the amounts of flour you can vary the proportions of wheat and white and pretty much come out with the same successful product.
7. Bake it upside down for the last 5 minutes to get the all-around crispiness of the loaf.
Famous hotels and houses have their signature recipe for their own Irish soda bread that reflects the terroir of the region. White soda bread is more often seen in Northern Ireland and also Irish American soda bread features more white flour than wheat.
Ken Buggy, one of Ireland's most respected bakers list the reasons why your Irish soda bread fails
Oven not preheated
Forgot leavening (baking soda or baking powder)
Dough kneaded too much
Not left in the oven long enough
The temperature I think from what I see from my tests runs from 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit when done. Let it cool before slicing.
Irish American Soda Bread
American soda bread from Dublin via New Jersey has Caraway, citron, raisins. I adapted Ross Pilling's recipe, an American which came from the book The Best Of Irish Breads & Baking, by Georgina Campbell, (Wolfhound Press 1996) which I ended up thinking was the best because, unless you buy Irish style Flour from the King Arthur Website, it will not taste the same in my opinion.
Irish American Soda Bread
In the recipe, the writer uses 2 small pans but I made one large loaf and baked it on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, but the recipe says 2- 8 inch loaves. I also was running short of the amount of buttermilk, so I subbed plain unsweetened Greek yogurt to make the amount needed.
4 cups plain (all-purpose) flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon table salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
3 teaspoons caraway seeds (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
2 tablespoons candied citron (optional)
1 1/2 cups raisins
1/4 (2 ounces) cup butter or margarine
1 egg slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat a moderately hot oven to 375F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and set it aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, sugar, spices, peel, and raisins Add in the butter or margarine and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until crumbly. Beat the egg slightly and mix with the buttermilk; add to the dry ingredients and stir until blended. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 2 or 3 minutes, until smooth.
Shape the dough into a large round loaf about 2 inches high. With a sharp knife, cut crosses in the tops of the loaves about 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 35-40 minutes until crisp and turn the loaf upside down the last 5 minutes of baking to ensure crispness on the bottom of the loaf. The loaf should be hollow-sounding when tapped on the base. Cool on a wire rack. Best eaten the day it's made.