Irish soda bread is great to have in your arsenal. It it is leavened with baking soda and buttermilk instead of yeast, so you can go from conception to hot bread on the table in under an hour, with only a few minutes of active work. It adapts beautifully to being made with half whole wheat flour to boost the nutritional value, and it is fun to make with kids. You can add raisins or currants or caraway seeds, or just leave it plain, to suit your mood or menu.
As an aside, I’ve been enjoying keeping buttermilk as a staple lately. In the past I never had it around, so if the urge came over me to make buttermilk pancakes, or biscuits, or soda bread, I’d either use powdered buttermilk, or forge some kind of substitution with milk and vinegar, or yogurt and so on. Those can all be good, but buttermilk itself is more consistent in most recipes, and it lasts quite awhile in the fridge, so it is isn’t a big deal to keep on hand.
In the recipe below, I call for half pastry flour and half whole wheat flour. The pastry flour will give you a more tender bread, but all purpose is fine too. Or you could use half all purpose and half whole wheat pastry flour. Basically any four cups of wheat-based flour is going to be fine, depending on your pantry and desire.
Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 large loaf
Vegetarian; not vegan or gluten-free
Adapted from Saveur magazine
- 2 cups pastry flour (see note above)
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 tablespoons butter, cool
- 1 cup raisins or currants, or 1.5 tablespoons caraway seeds, or nothing
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Sift together the flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda.
- Cut the butter into the flour with two knives or a pastry cutter, as when making a pie crust. (Tip: if your butter is frozen, microwave it for ten seconds at a time until it is cuttable).
- Add the remaining ingredients, mix well with a spoon, then knead right in the bowl for couple of minutes. It should be moist but firm enough to form a ball. If not, add a bit more flour.
- Shape into a large ball, place on a greased (or silpat-covered) cookie sheet, and make an X in the top with a sharp knife.
- Bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown, and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. Better yet, use an instant read thermometer to look for an internal temperature of 180 degrees. That is a much more reliable way to gauge doneness. If the bread browns too fast, cover it with a tinfoil tent until it is done.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes, and serve with swaths of sweet cream butter.