It’s snowing once again in central Massachusetts. I am really hoping this will be our final Winter Weather Event of the season, but you just never know around here. The chilly, dreary weather does have me in the mood for baking, but I could not decide what to make. While passing through the bakery department at the grocery store yesterday I saw the customary collection of St. Patrick’s Day items- green cupcakes, green cookies, green muffins, and soda bread. Then I realized, to my own surprise, that I have never ever made soda bread. Today, I changed that.
The history of soda bread is truly fascinating, especially the origins of its strong connection to the people of Ireland. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread has a well written history on their site. You should totally give it a read.
Because it is leavened with carbon dioxide bubbles from sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) coming into contact with an acid (lactic acid from buttermilk), soda bread cooks up quickly with no need for hours of yest-driven rise time. In deed, it is a “quick bread”. Which is good, because I need breakfast.
There are so many recipes on the web for Irish Soda Bread, but I ultimately decided on this one, from Kelly Rossiter at Mother Nature Network. This super-simple version has no butter, eggs or sugar. Based on my research that makes it more “authentic.” That being said, you know my feelings on food culture. You make your food the way your household likes it. You are part of your food culture. Do not be afraid to evolve your culture’s food culture! Here is how it all went down:
Step one- preheat the oven. Step two- mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together. I added one cup of raisins as well, despite being forewarned that this would render my “soda bread” a “tea loaf”. I like raisins.
Who keeps buttermilk in the house these days? I certainly never have any. However, the internet is full of acceptable substitutions. You can add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of regular milk and let it sit for a few minutes. You can also thin out three-fourths of a cup of plain yogurt with one quarter cup of milk or water. I used the yogurt method.
At this point, I had to pause my baking as the oven had not yet finished preheating. Baking soda bubbles do not last long, so you want to mix any quick bread dough or batter just before it goes into the oven.
Since I had a few minutes, I decided to look into the connection between living in Massachusetts and having Irish heritage. Most places in the USA get a little festive around St. Patrick’s Day, with music and green stuff and all. The Bay State seems to bring it to the next level though. According to Emerald Heritage and the U.S. Census Bureau, Boston, MA is the most Irish of large American cities. A fairly well cited Wikipedia page notes that many Massachusetts cities boast the highest percentage of Irish descendants in their class. I never knew that.
With the oven ready to go, I made a well in the flour mixture and added the thinned out yogurt. I stirred and kneaded the thick dough just enough to bring it all together and patted it into a nice round loaf.
Evidently, the cross hatch on the top of the bread is not just for aesthetics. The cuts help the inside of the loaf cook evenly. This is yet another thing I did not know until today.
Now that is a good looking loaf! It is tasty, as well. The raisins give just enough sweetness. I did not even butter the slices I ate.
I am glad I tried a DIY version of soda bread. I was very tempted by the loaves in the supermarket bakery, but those are always quite sweet and a little heavy. This bare-bones recipe is filling but light. What cultural specialties are part of your DIYet? Share in the comments section!