Irish Soda Bread

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, and in keeping with the season I’ve made a huge round loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Note the sorrel leaves just popping up to the right of the bread – early in this year of no winter.

Soda bread and sorrel leaves

There are probably as many variations of this recipe as there are descendants of Old Eire. My mother’s Irish Soda Bread was dry and crumbly and very, very white. Mine is tan (1 C of whole wheat flour) and quite moist; my mother’s recipe didn’t list any butter and mine requires 1/2 a cup -more if you’re feeling celebratory. I’m sure Great-great grandmother Bell’s differed from both of ours, back in Co. Cork.

All versions have a few items in common: raisins, caraway seeds, buttermilk and baking (or bread) soda. Something else – most of these recipes call for 5 C of flour and a cup of sugar. That’s a big batch of quick bread! I use a 12″ cast iron fricasse pot with 4″ sides and you’ll need something like that unless you divide the dough into two parts, which will bake nicely in nine or ten inch pie plates.

4 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (see below)
2 1/2 cups raisins, 1/2 C orange juice, 3 Tbs whiskey
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with at least 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Melt the butter in the skillet and then turn the heat off (this butters the skillet nicely while providing melted butter for the recipe).

Put the raisins in a small sauce pan with the orange juice and whiskey (optional, but very nice). Bring the mixture to a boil then turn off the heat and let them soak while you make the dough.

In a large bowl, whisk first 5 ingredients to blend. Stir in the butter, using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated.

d'oh

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center.  Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

This bread is wonderful fresh from the oven with butter, as a side for beef stew, and even better the next day toasted with Dundee marmalade.

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