Irish Soda Bread

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Over the past few years, I’ve watched Mike bake loaf after loaf of perfect Irish soda bread. As soon as he pulled it from the oven, we’d tear off chunks and slather them with butter or jam, burning our hands and tongues because the bread was still steaming. I was happy to have him bake it, but eventually I wanted to try it for myself.

I’ve worked in a bakery and made dozens of different yeast and quick breads, so I figured I would have no problem with this. After all, it’s just flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. No proofing yeast, punching down, complicated braiding, egg wash, or anything that would strike fear in the heart of a novice baker. And yet I failed repeatedly.

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There was my first disastrous attempt, when I offered to make two loaves for Thanksgiving and the texture was all wrong. I took another shot with a different recipe when I was staying at my parents house. My mom took a bite, chewed slowly and said “well, it’s okay, but it’s not soda bread.” This continued a few more times, and each time there was something off.

When I decided to try yet again to make an edible loaf the other night, I had my usual hesitation. I briefly debated putting raisins in it, but Mike reminded me that I probably shouldn’t make it any more complicated than necessary, given my track record.

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When I pulled the loaf from the oven, I started to think that this was my time. “It looks like soda bread!” I yelled (probably louder than I should have, considering the hour and the baby that lives downstairs) and Mike agreed. We got the jam and butter ready and dug in. Victory! I’m not sure why this time things finally worked out for me, but I’m never trying another recipe again!

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The accompaniment for this particular loaf was this amazing jam from my aunt, who picked it up at the Blackberry Arts Festival in Coos Bay, Oregon, and sent it along with my parents when they came to visit me in Seoul. I am not being paid for this endorsement and they did not send me free samples, but I would gladly buy it myself! Unlike a lot of the jam available here, it wasn’t overly sticky or syrupy, and it really tasted like eating fresh berries! You can read more about Misty Meadows Jam at http://gotjam.com.

Recipe:
(adapted from Baking Bites)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and grease a baking sheet (or line with parchment).
Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl and wisk together with a fork.
Stir in half the butter milk, then add the remaining buttermilk 2 tbsp at a time. You want the dough to be just a little bit moist. It should hold together, but not be sticky. If you accidentally add too much milk, knead in some flour until the dough is no longer sticky.
Shape into a ball, then cut an X into the top.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden brown. (If you tap on the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles, it should sound hollow).
Let cool as long as you can stand to wait, then serve with butter and jam.
Best if eaten within about 3 hours of baking.

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