They say everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I like that. We all get to wear green, march in parades and eat corn beef and cabbage washed down with Guinness. The Irish know how to celebrate.
To commemorate the upcoming day, I’ve posted a series of photos from my last visit to Ireland. I have also included a quick and easy recipe for Irish Soda Bread. The ancient recipe had just four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk—items that the Irish housewife would’ve had on hand, even in bad times.
Irish-Americans fancied up the simple recipe, adding eggs, butter, raisins, even orange peel. But purists decry the additions, saying it turns the rustic loaf into tea bread.
This recipe comes from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa of cookbook fame. It has more than the original four ingredients and leans toward the tea bread variety. Melissa Clark of the New York Times adds baking powder to her recipe, cooks it in a skillet, and admits it would be more accurate to call the revised version Irish-American Soda Bread.
Without yeast or kneading, the traditional recipe depends on baking soda for leavening. According to Irish custom, an X is placed atop the loaf, blessing the bread with a cruciform or “letting the devil escape the loaf,” as some claim.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1¾ cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Trip to Ireland 2011