Saturday, March 10, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

I love Irish Soda Bread.  I love its rustic crust.  I love it with salty Irish butter smeared on top.  I love it with whole wheat flour (which makes it Irish Brown Bread). I love it with raisins (which make it a Spotted Dog).  I love it with caraway seeds (what on Earth does that make it?).  With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, it is a staple quick bread, regardless of what you add to it or what you call it. 

When I made this beautiful loaf last week, I wanted a simple recipe using the basics – flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk (and caraway seeds because I couldn’t resist that distinctive flavor).  Where do I start when I’m looking for simple?  Alice Waters.  That’s where.  She has not let me down yet.

The dough comes together really easily and as Alice tells us, it takes no more than an hour from beginning to end.   I used about half white whole wheat and half all purpose flour for this recipe, but you can vary that ratio as you like, or eliminate the whole wheat entirely for classic soda bread.  Before putting the dough in the oven, cut a deep cross across the top.  This not only gives the loaf that distinctive Irish Soda Bread look, but it helps the large loaf cook evenly and rise.  And of course, serve warm with a generous smear of Irish butter!

Irish Soda Bread
Makes one large loaf

3¾ cups flour (I used half white whole wheat, half unbleached all purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ - 2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour(s), salt, and baking soda.  Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in 1½ cups of the buttermilk.  Stir to bring the dough together, and add more buttermilk if needed.  The dough should be soft, but not wet or tacky (I added almost 2 cups).

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead just enough to form into a ball.  Press into a round loaf about 1½ inch thick. Place the loaf on a baking sheet and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. Cut deep into the bread, all the way to the edges.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes. The bottom of the baked loaf should sound hollow when tapped.

Serve immediately with butter, jam, or cheese. 

(Recipe adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)   

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