Saturday, March 17, 2012
Irish Soda Bread
Reuben sandwiches and Irish soda bread. That's what my family always eats for St. Patrick's Day dinner. Reubens because my mom can't stand corned beef and cabbage, and Irish soda bread because it's the most delicious bread in the world. Okay, so Reubens aren't exactly Irish fare. My family isn't exactly Irish, either. If you have to rattle off a list like "Irish, Scottish, Dutch, German, Mexican, and maybe Aztec, if that even counts, and maybe Italian instead of Dutch because my great-great-something grandfather may or may not have lied about that when he came to America," then maybe you're not Irish enough to eat corned beef and cabbage, anyway. Corned beef and sort-of-cabbage on a sandwich oozing with Swiss cheese and thousand island dressing is a far better alternative, I think. Even my quarter-Irish husband agrees.
And then the soda bread, so hearty and comforting, bursting with little bites of caraway and raisins (or no raisins, if you want). It's best just out of the oven, still steaming hot, smeared with a little butter--although it's so creamy, it hardly needs the help. My parents used to limit the number of pieces each person could have, because my ravenous teenage brothers would sneak away with half the loaf if nobody kept guard over it. They probably still do. Now I'm married and can bake my own Irish soda bread and eat it too. I honestly could make this stuff every week and not get tired of it. Who cares if St. Patrick's Day is almost over? (Yeah, yeah, I should have posted this three days ago so you could have soda bread with your corned beef. Just make it anyway. St. Patrick probably won't mind.)
Irish Soda Bread (from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook)
Time: 1 1/2 hours (80 minutes for a half loaf*)
4 cups flour
3 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
6 T. butter, cut into small chunks
1 1/2 cups dark seedless raisins (optional)
1 T. caraway seed
1 1/2 cups buttermilk OR milk soured with 1 tsp. lemon juice (let stand 5 minutes)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 2-quart round casserole (I like to use a Pyrex bowl). In large bowl with a fork or whisk, mix flour and next four ingredients (through baking soda). With pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles large crumbs; stir in raisins, if desired, and caraway.
In small bowl with whisk, beat eggs slightly; remove 1 T. and set aside. Stir buttermilk or milk into remaining egg; stir into flour mixture just until flour is moistened (dough will be sticky).
Turn dough onto well-floured surface; knead about 10 times to mix thoroughly (you can also do this right in the bowl). Shape into a ball; place in casserole. In center of ball, cut a 4-inch cross 1/4 inch deep. (Supposedly this is to let the fairies out, but it mostly just makes the bread look cool.) Brush dough with reserved egg.
Bake about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in casserole 10 minutes; remove from casserole and cool completely on a wire rack.
*To make a half loaf, use a 1- or 1 1/2-quart casserole and bake for 1 hour.