When I went to the mall, I started seeing St. Patrick decorative items and accessories and so I thought maybe it’s also a good time for me to share an Irish Soda bread recipe with you. I’m not Irish but I like celebrating occasions of other culture because every occasion is an opportunity for me to bake or cook something, so that alone is a good reason for me. I am not even aware of St. Patrick Day until I came here in Canada. Canada is so diverse and multi-cultural that we celebrate so many occasion and festivals all year round. There’s Italian Day, there’s Greek Day, Chinese New Year, Filipino Festival and more.
Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick is celebrated on March 17th which is the traditional death date of Ireland patron Saint and is considered as a cultural and religious celebration. Although here in Vancouver, St. Patrick Day is not a public holiday, there are still celebrations happening in some places. I’ve never been in any of them and my participation in St. Patrick’s Day is basically by just making this Irish Soda Bread. It doesn’t have to be St. Patrick’s Day for you to make soda bread, you make it anytime of the year, any time you want to.
Traditional vs. Non Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Traditional or Classic Irish Soda Bread uses down to very basic ingredients like flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Then there’s the non-traditional version like this recipe which uses additional ingredients like butter, sugar, egg and dried fruits. I’ve made both version several times, I actually started with the traditional version and I never had a luck in getting the texture and taste that I want. It turned out dense and heavy no matter how gentle I handle it, and it taste bland to me and the texture a little bit dry. I don’t know how the traditional or authentic Irish Soda Bread taste like so don’t have anywhere to compare it to, but one thing I know I was not happy with what I had produced so far. I almost decided to give up on it after making it twice, but then I thought I should give it another try. Baking really thought me a lot about being patience and determination. So, I gave it a 3rd try but I did modifications with the hope that I will get it the way I want it. I went for the non-traditional version of adding butter, sugar, egg and dried fruits. Guess what? It worked like magic! The bread turned out perfect more than I could imagine.
What to expect from this bread
I am happy to report that after the 3rd time I was finally able to make an Irish Soda Bread that is perfection (at least to me). The outer shell is crusty and crunchy, the inside is soft and moist, the taste is balanced with the right sweetness and saltiness, and the amount of dried fruits are just right for the size of the bread. I was so happy when I cut it and tasted it, so good! I know it’s just a bread, but just taste so good for something that is so easy to make. Now I can say that, because I finally nailed it. Now it’s your turn to make it. I hope you will give it a try, and if you do, let me know how it goes. I have written down few tips, take a few minutes to read it.
Tips to successful Soda Bread
- Measure baking soda properly: The main leavening agent of this bread is the baking soda. Since this is a quick bread, meaning no yeast needed, the baking soda + buttermilk is the key to having a soft crusty and rustic looking bread. Do the spoon level technique when measuring the ingredients. To much baking soda can make the bread taste acidic and can have the tendency to turn the color of your bread “greenish”, we don’t want a green looking rustic bread! SO measure well, and mix well.
- No kneading:This is your opportunity to make a lovely looking rustic bread without kneading and waiting for it to rise, so grab that chance! All this bread needs is gentle mixing and light touch just to form the dough into a disk. Don’t bother making it smooth, we want it to look rustic. The rougher it look, the better.
- Buttermilk vs. milk: Since this bread does not require yeast and long rest period, buttermilk is one of the key ingredients for the bread to have a softer texture. Since buttermilk is acidic, it will react with baking soda helping the bread to rise as it bakes in the oven. I have tried using regular milk, it was ok but it was a little bit dense as compared to using buttermilk. You don’t need to buy whole carton of buttermilk just to make this bread, you can make your own by mixing 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar. Let rest for 10-15 minutes or until it starts to curdle.
- Hot and always close oven: Always pre-heat your oven, just like making biscuits, hot oven is a must to have the puff-up and rustic looking bread. Although it is always tempting to open the oven to check the bread, avoid doing that. Closed oven all-through out the baking will create a rustic and lovely brown crust, which is totally worth the wait. Opening the oven will let the steam and heat escape and can deflate the bread.
- Use of add-on ingredients: I suggest that you soak in water and honey or maple syrup whatever dried fruits you are using before adding it to the dry ingredients. Dried fruits have a tendency to absorb moisture of the liquid when added into the mixture. This means that it will compete with the dry ingredients and it could absorb the moisture that is supposed to be for the flour, resulting to a dry soda dough. Soaking it in water will soften the dried fruits and at the same time will make it moist even when it is baked.
There you go, few tips to remember. Let’s put it to use and let’s get started!
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp cold butter – cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup raisins or cranberry or a mix of both
- 1 egg – refrigerated
- 1/3 cup cold buttermilk (You make can make your own buttermilk by mixing 1/3 cup milk + 1 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until it curdles)
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line small cookie sheet with parchment paper or dust iron skillet with flour. Set aside while you make the dough.
- Soak dried fruits: Mix water and honey or maple syrup and soak the dried fruits. Set aside while you make the dough. If you don’t want any mix-in, you can skip this step. Drain or remove excess water and pat dry with paper towels before mixing the soaked fruits into the dough.
- Mix dry ingredients: In a medium size bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter with a fork (or with your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins and cranberry.
- Mix wet ingredients: In a small bowl, whisk buttermilk and beaten egg.
- Mix wet and dry ingredients: Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, 1 tbsp at a time, I used around 5 tbsp. Use a sturdy spoon to mix the ingredients. There will be left over buttermilk mixture, set it aside for brushing top of the bread.
- Shape the bread: Transfer in a floured surface and using your hands, form it into a disk about 6-inch diameter. DO NOT knead, just gather the dough together to form it. You don’t also need to make the surface smooth, uneven surface if fine. It will look more rustic once baked.
- Mark the bread: Transfer into cookie sheet or cast iron pan. With a sharp knife, cut a 1/4-inch deep cross on top of the dough. Brush top with leftover buttermilk mixture, just whatever you can get from what is left.
- Let it rest: Let sit for 15 minutes, this will allow the baking soda to react with the buttermilk giving the dough a slight lift but nothing much like a regular yeast bread.
- Bake 30-35 minutes, or until dough is just cooked through and the top is a light golden brown.
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