From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I wasn't going to talk about soda bread this year. Recipes for it abound as St. Patrick's Day approaches, and there's not really much to add to those that already exist. I've obviously changed my mind, but I've done so for a reason. Most of the recipes I've seen are for a loaf that bears no resemblance to true Irish Soda Bread. The ingredients in the real deal are limited to flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. The versions we make here are called Emigrant Soda Bread in Ireland, because they contain ingredients that were not found in Irish peasant kitchens. Raisins and caraway seeds are English additions to the simple load, and what we call Irish Soda Bread should actually be called Spotted Dog. That being said, I set out to find the best soda bread I could, and I found an outstanding one in Ina Garten's cookbook The Barefoot Contessa at Home. Hers is the first recipe I'm sharing with you tonight. The second comes from the kitchens of Ballymaloe in Ireland and it is the best approximation of true Irish Soda Bread that I could find.
Now for the bread itself. The Irish began to use baking soda in the mid 1800's. Bread was made mostly in the summer months when potato stores had been exhausted and grains were needed to carry the poor through to the next harvest. They called the summer months "meal months" . Irish peasants lived, for the most part, on a diet of potatoes, grains and milk. Eggs, butter, zests, currants and nuts appeared only in the breads of English landholders or successful Irish emigres. True soda bread was cooked in a bastible, a lidded cast-iron pot, that was put right into the coals or on a turf fire. In the Southern part of the country, the bread was shaped into a round loaf that was scored with a cross that was made to "let the devil out" as the bread cooked. In Northern Ireland, the bread was baked in a flat circle called a farl. We'll get to those but let's first take a look at the Emigrant version of the bread.
Emigrant Soda Bread...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Ina Garten
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1-3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2) Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add butter and mix on low speed until butter is mixed into the flour.
3) Lightly beat buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. Set mixer to low speed and slowly add buttermilk mixture to flour. Toss currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into dough.
4) Dump wet dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into top of bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and loaf has a hollow sound when tapped. Serve warm or at room temperature.Yield: 1 loaf.
Ballymaloe White Soda Bread
4 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2) Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish - not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently.
3) Pat the dough into a round about 1-1/2-inches deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
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