If you're like countless others who happily look forward to St. Patrick's Day, you prepare your celebration. You rummage through the closet in search of green clothing, decorate your home with shamrocks and leprechauns, and search for Irish recipes in your cookbooks.
Before you finish your menu, be sure to include soda bread. Sliced thick, slathered with butter, and served with other typical Irish foods, soda bread is a tasty contribution to festive St. Patrick's Day meals.
With a history spanning more than two centuries, soda bread is a traditional Irish specialty. The first loaf, consisting of little more than flour, baking soda, salt and sour milk, made its debut in the mid-1800s when baking soda found its way into Irish kitchens.
At the time, bread-making in rural Ireland was carried out domestically using minimal ingredients, equipment and finesse. Baking soda offered home cooks the opportunity to broaden their repertoire of recipes.
Providing a quick, convenient and reliable leavener, baking soda was simple to work with and easy to store. It also produced a better- tasting bread than what was originally available in the 19th century, and soda bread soon became a staple of the Irish diet.
Today, soda bread is enjoyed throughout the world. Many take pleasure in its tangy flavor, dressing it with butter and preserves for breakfast, eating it with cheese for a light snack -- or serving it as an accompaniment to a celebratory feast.
Since it's a quick bread, it's simple to prepare. The ingredients come together in a matter of minutes and the loaf is ready to eat in under half an hour.
Soda bread can be made with a variety of flours, and can have differing flavors and textures from added dried fruits, herbs and seeds. The Culinary Institute of America's version, made with the addition of sugar, raisins and caraway seeds, uses white cake flour for a light, tender crumb.
"Like most baked goods, soda bread doesn't keep for long," John Reilly, associate professor in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America, says. "If properly cooled, wrapped well in plastic, and stored at room temperature, it will maintain its quality for about two days."
To keep the bread moist and preserve its unique texture, some traditional recipes recommend wrapping freshly baked loaves in a clean tea towel while they cool.
When serving, divide the bread into quarters using the cross on top of the loaf as a guide. This characteristic marking, cut into the dough before baking, allows ample room for the loaf to expand in the oven and provides four pre-portioned sections, also known as "farls."
Legend suggests that the cross is sliced into the bread to scare away evil spirits. Truth or folly, soda bread wouldn't be soda bread without it.
The following recipe is from The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts & Brunches (Culinary Institute of America)" cookbook (Lebhar-Freidman, 2005).
Makes 2 loaves or 16 rolls.
4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup dark raisins
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 cup cold milk
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it lightly with cooking spray or lining it with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, sugar and salt together into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the shortening into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal. Add the raisins, caraway seeds and milk. Mix the dough until just combined; avoid overmixing as this will cause the dough to toughen.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press into a ball. Form the dough into two equal loaves, or cut into 16 equal pieces to make rolls. Dust with flour and with a sharp knife lightly score an "X" across the top of each roll or loaf.
Bake the soda bread until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 8 to 10 minutes for rolls and 25 minutes for loaves. Wrap the bread in a tea towel directly after you take it out of the oven. Cool the soda bread in the tea towel on a wire rack before serving.
It can be held at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 4 weeks.
Nutrition information per 2.5-ounce serving: 210 cal., 4 g pro., 41 g carbo., 4 g fat, 520 mg sodium, 0 mg chol., 1 g fiber.
source: Deseret News (Salt Lake City) , Mar 15, 2006 by The Culinary Institute
Copyright © 2006 Deseret News Publishing Co.
IRISH SODA BREAD
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tbsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1/4 cup Butter (melted)
2 cups Buttermilk
1 Egg (lightly beaten)
1 tsp. Salt
1/3 cup White Sugar
Pre-heat oven to 325° F (165° C). Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Set aside.
Combine baking powder, baking soda, flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.
Blend egg and buttermilk together and add to bowl. Mix until moistened.
Stir in melted butter.
Pour mixture into prepared greased pan.
Bake for 65 to 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of bread comes out clean.
Cool loaf on a wire rack, then wrap in foil for several hours or overnight for best flavor. Enjoy!
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Hungry for more? Browse our Irish recipes on St. PAtrick's Day menu page at Recipes.it (link).
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