Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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There is nothing quite like my grandmother’s Irish Soda bread, and this year my family requested it for St. Patrick’s Day. We look forward to a fresh piece of soda bread whenever we visit my dad’s family in the Boston area.  Since we won’t see them until after St. Patrick’s Day, I called my grandmother to get her recipe.Image

My Grammy Bowman told me the story behind the recipe’s tradition in our family.  All these years of slathering pieces of bread with butter at our family gatherings and I never knew how the recipe was passed down through the generations in our family. It was fascinating to hear how my great grandmother strayed from some of the traditional preparations of the bread by reducing a pound of butter to a stick and adding less sugar, because after all it is not meant to be a dessert bread.

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My Irish grandmother uses a fork to blend the ingredients for her bread, while my other grandmother uses a stand mixer for hers. Image My first attempt at making Irish Soda Bread resulted in a bread with an overcooked crust an undercooked center.

After talking to her, I felt like I had a lot to live up to with my first attempt at baking my Irish Soda bread. I followed the recipe that my grandmother used; however, it was tricky to get precise measurements for the recipe when I talked to her because the recipe was passed down through the family by word of mouth. Most of the recipe requires knowing what the dough looks like and being able to determine what it needs from there.  I was not so successful.  I ended up with a beautifully risen bread and a dark golden brown crust; however, it remained soupy on the inside and didn’t cook even after an hour in the oven.

I decided to call my other grandmother, who, although not Irish, has a delicious, foolproof recipe for Irish Soda Bread.   She is a seasoned baker and cook so she was able to walk me through a new recipe and figure out what went wrong with my other bread.

Her version of Irish Soda Bread includes raisins (like my other grandmother’s) along with caraway seeds.  I decided to omit the caraway seeds from my bread because my family is not a fan of them and I brushed the top with butter.  The recipe originally did not specify whether to plump the raisins, but I wanted to ensure that they would be soft and moist inside the bread so I went ahead and boiled them.  Here is the recipe that I modified from my grandmother.

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Second time I ended up with a buttery crusted, moist Irish Soda Bread.

Irish Soda Bread

Yields 1 loaf

Ingredients

3 c. of all purpose flour

3 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

3/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. butter (+ 2 Tablespoons for top)

1 large egg

1 1/4 c. buttermilk

1 c. raisins

2 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350º.  Then grease (or butter) a one-pound loaf pan.  Pour the cup of raisins into a small saucepan and cover with water.  Place it over medium heat on your stove until the raisins plump. Drain the excess water and set aside.

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate large bowl or stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar for one to two minutes.

Then add in the egg.

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients and buttermilk into the butter, sugar and egg mixture alternating between the dry ingredients and buttermilk.  Once combined add in the raisins and caraway seeds if desired.

Scoop the mixture into the greased loaf pan and place in the oven on the middle rack for one hour.  Once the bread is cooked through and browned take out of the oven and brush two tablespoons of butter over the warm bread.  Let it cool for a half an hour before slicing.  Serve it with butter or jam.

This bread is delicious straight out of the oven and great the next day as toast.  Wrap this bread tightly in plastic wrap to store.

A little history on Irish Soda Bread… Irish soda bread originated when Ireland was in a tragically impoverished state.  Because of Irelands destitute conditions the traditional quick bread is comprised of a limited list of ingredients: flour, baking soda, soured milk and salt.

Before baking the bread a cross was carved into the dough to offer protection from the devil over the household.  They baked the bread in a griddle over an open hearth and the finished product resulted in dense bread with a crispy crust. Today many recipes for Irish soda bread use a cast iron skillet to emulate the authentic soda bread crust.

Irish families were accustomed to making bread everyday.  In particular Irish soda bread was perishable and needed to be remade every couple of days.  Soda bread was typically served with butter along side the family’s main course.

Sources:
"History of Irish Soda Bread." History of Irish Soda Bread. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
"Soda Bread." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.