Seriously Simple: Irish soda bread goes with any meal
As a seasoned cook, I am always surprised when I come across well-known recipes I've never tried. I have made many quick breads but never Irish soda bread. Quick breads, by definition, use baking powder, soda or cream of tartar rather than yeast to leaven the breads. In this case, soda and baking powder are used. These breads are made quickly and with little stirring so that the ingredients have the ability to rise. Recently I came across this recipe from famed Napa Model Bakery's cookbook (“The Model Bakery Cookbook,” by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen, Chronicle Books, 2013) and had to try it.
What I love about this bread is that it is very crusty on the outside and the bottom of the loaf, but the interior has a tender crumb.
Some suggest that the real Irish soda bread had neither sugar nor dried fruit or caraway seeds. I find that adding them to the dough gives a lovely sweet and savory element to the bread. You could use dried cranberries or raisins instead of the currants, if you prefer. Serve this along with any meal — or you can think of this as a giant scone and serve it for either breakfast or tea.
Diane Rossen Worthington is a cookbook author and a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.
Irish Soda Bread
2 1⁄2 cups unbleached flour, plus more for the pan and top of the loaf
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces
1⁄2 cup dried currants, optional
1 tsp caraway seeds, optional
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, as needed
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Dust the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with flour.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large bowl. Add the butter and stir to coat with the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, with some pea-size pieces of butter. Stir in the currants and caraway seeds, if using. Stir in enough of the buttermilk to make a moist, soft dough, being sure to moisten all of the dry bits on the bottom of the bowl. Knead in the bowl just a few times to be sure the dough comes together — this is not a smooth dough.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Sprinkle the top with at least 1 tablespoon flour to give the loaf a rustic look, and transfer it to the prepared pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow, 4-inch-wide X in the top of the dough. The X will open during baking and help the loaf bake more evenly.
Bake until the top is deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and let it cool on a wire cooling rack for 5 to 10 minutes; serve warm. (The bread is best the day it is made.)
Makes 1 loaf.