Happy early Saint Patrick’s Day! I wanted to post this recipe early so you could celebrate with this delicious “artisan” take on a traditional recipe for Irish Soda Bread. It’s a special treat with plump raisins and a hint of orange zest, that when sliced and served warm, deserves a generous slather of Kerrygold butter.
But first, I wanted to do my Irish roots proud and share a bit of Irish Soda Bread history with you. It’s very interesting how it’s evolved. In America, we enjoy a sweet, raisiny goodness that we eat around Saint Patrick’s day, and we relish in its loveliness. But traditional Irish Soda Bread was an every day staple of the Irish diet, a common table bread that was made with coarsely ground brown flour, buttermilk bread soda (baking soda) and salt. That’s all. Plain hearty bread!
White flour was used only for special occasions, and dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants or other dried fruits) were considered a luxury. Butter was not put in the bread, but rather, slathered generously on the bread. Now, that’s my love language. I’ve always said that bread is just a vessel to get the butter into my mouth, and a tiny piece deserves a huge glob of butter.
The baking process was very basic, because ovens were a luxury. They used a humble cast-iron pot with a lid, and they place the pot on the fire or on the coals. I can only imagine how delicious the taste of the fire baked bread may have been — completely different than the sweet versions we make today in our ovens with raisins or currants, but knowing me, I would have burned it to a crisp!
Another interesting fact, the X (or cross) that’s cut on the top of the bread serves function, in that it allows the heat to get to the thickest part of the bread so that it can bake evenly. But, remembering that Ireland is a Catholic country, some say that the symbolism of the cross can be interpreted as giving thanks, blessing the bread, and making it easier to “break” bread together.
Today in Ireland, many versions of Irish Soda Bread can be found… with raisins or currants, cheeses, herbs, onions, vegetables, garlic… They all sound delicious to me, but I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a true Irishman call those versions “real Irish Soda Bread.” Instead, they will probably call them “artisan breads made from an Irish soda bread base.”
So here is a delicious bread recipe, made from an Irish soda bread base. Go ahead — you can call it an Irish Soda Bread, and I will too. The recipe credit goes to Ina Garten, and I can’t say how brilliant the addition of the orange zest is in this recipe! It just brightens the loaf and makes the entire thing taste, well, happy! I’ve made Irish Soda Bread before, and this, by far, is the tastiest.
Let me encourage you to grab your kids, the ingredients, and make this bread tonight. I’m certain you’ve got all the ingredients on hand. Here’s how you can make regular milk into buttermilk: [CLICK HERE]. The recipe is so easy, and not at all daunting like a yeast based bread can be… so be BOLD, be DARING, and make this for your family this St. Patrick’s Day. And, I do hope you enjoy it. Let me know how it turns out.
A few tips:
- Make sure you work with cold butter, egg and buttermilk.
- Knead the bread briefly and gently so you don’t break down the cold pieces of butter. The cold butter will melt in the oven, leaving light pockets of air in the loaf.
- If you over work the dough, it will make the loaf tough. It will come together quickly. If the raisins aren’t incorporated, you can knead them in quickly before they go on the sheet pan.
- If you don’t like raisins, you can use currants, golden raisins, chopped apricots, or omit them all together.
Additional pictures: [CLICK HERE]
Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for raisins and kneading
- 4 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 Tablespoons cold butter, cubed
- 1-3/4 cup cold buttermilk, shaken well
- 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (about one medium orange)
- 1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper (NOT wax paper or aluminum foil).
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and kosher salt on low. Add the cubed butter and mix on low until blended.
In a two cup measuring cup, gently whisk the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together. Pour slowly into the flour mixture with the mixer on low until the dough forms together. In a medium bowl, toss the raisins with one or two tablespoons of flour to coat, and add to the dough, mixing until combined.
Dump the dough onto a well floured surface. It will be very wet and sticky. Gently knead it into a round loaf, folding it under (into itself like a pizza dough). Place the loaf onto the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and when you tap on the loaf, it sounds hollow. Serve warm or at room temperature.