Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
This week I was lucky enough to have a mid-week day off from work. So, in typical Ryan’s Kitchen Journal fashion, I decided to bake something. Being that St. Patrick’s Day is at the end of the week, I figured Irish Soda Bread was a great choice. I’ve also never made soda bread before but had been wanting to. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me up.
Irish Soda Bread
Before we get into the details, a little history lesson.
Believe it or not, the Irish weren’t the ones to invent soda bread. It was actually the Native Americans. They were able to leaven their bread by using pearl ash (a natural form of soda created from the ashes of wood). But this method was kept a secret until the Irish discovered it many years later. It was only after the Irish started producing the bread in droves that it became famous worldwide.
Irish soda bread as we know it today dates to around the 1830s when baking soda was first introduced to the United Kingdom. Throughout history, Ireland had limited access to certain ingredients but not baking soda, which they could find pretty easily. Also, the softer wheat that was grown in Ireland couldn’t handle the action of yeast. But, baking soda worked fine. Thus, soda bread became a staple in many Irish kitchens and homes, even those in very remote areas.
Even today the Irish take their soda bread very seriously. Did you know that there is a group of people who are dedicated to protecting the integrity of Irish soda bread? Well, there is. It’s called the Society For the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.
Ina Garten’s Soda Bread
I grew up with soda bread each year on or around St. Patrick’s Day. No, I’m not Irish. But, my grandmother was (and is) a hobbyist baker, so whenever a holiday was coming up with were graced with a “traditional” treat. While I appreciated the sentiment, I honestly didn’t like her soda bread. It was dense and dry. But, with nothing to compare it to, I didn’t know any better.
That may be why I was hesitant to make it all these years.
But, this year, I decided I would try making a loaf myself. And I knew Ina Garten’s recipe would be a great indicator of what Irish Soda Bread should actually taste like. Even though Ina’s recipe has some nontraditional soda bread ingredients, I think it is an excellent loaf that has great flavor.
This recipe can be found in Barefoot Contessa At Home.
Ina Garten’s Irish Soda Bread is really simple to make and only requires a handful of ingredients. Many of these are kitchen staples such as flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, an egg, and cold, unsalted butter. You will also need orange zest and buttermilk. Ina’s recipe called for optional currants, but I used raisins. I haven’t been able to find currants in my grocery stores lately.
What’s great about Irish Soda Bread is that the dough comes together really quickly. There’s also very little downtime. You don’t need to wait at all for the dough to rise before shaping and baking. You just mix, knead a bit, and bake. You also don’t need any special equipment like a Dutch oven, which is more common with home bread-baking recipes.
I didn’t have any issues until I actually had to knead the dough. But looking back, I think this had to do with the amount of flour I used in the recipe. Lately, I’ve been baking from recipes that exclusively list the number of grams needed for the dry ingredients. Ina’s cookbooks only use cups. So, I decided to use the standard 120 grams of flour per cup for this recipe. Since I needed four cups, I used a total of 480g of flour.
After mixing everything together, adding the buttermilk mixture, and the raisins I found the dough to still be tough to work with it. Shaggy dough to the max! Even though my board was generously floured, as were my hands, I still had trouble with the kneading.
Now, remember, this isn’t a yeasted dough. So you don’t really have to knead it in the way we are all thinking. You basically just need to shape it into a nice dough ball and place it on the baking sheet. That said, I was surprised by how moist and difficult the dough was to work with. I walked a fine line between adding enough flour to work with but not adding too much to make the dough too dry.
Eventually, I shaped the loaf into a (sort of) nice mound and baked it. The recipe said it needed about 45 minutes. Mine took around 50 by the time it was baked through and sounded “hollow.”
Since my dough ball was a little more spread out than it should have been, my soda bread ended up being a little flatter than I would have liked it to be. But, I was quite impressed with the color and how it looked when it came out of the oven.
Though I wanted to cut into it right away, I was patient and allowed it to cool. Finally, after about an hour, it was time to slice into it.
The bread was not overly sweet, which was expected. There’s only about a quarter cup of sugar in the recipe. Ina Garten is famous for making traditional recipes but “with the volume turned up” and that is no exception with this recipe. By using orange zest, you get an ever-so-slight hint of orangey flavor with each slice. The buttermilk provides a tanginess as well as helps to produce a moist crumb.
I can see why Ina preferred currants to raisins, though. Currants are smaller and would just work better in this recipe. Raisins, which are larger can sometimes get chewy after baking. Or at least they do in my experience. Still, the raisins provide a little more pop of sweetness when biting into them.
While Irish soda bread can be a bit of an annoyance to make, since the dough is quite sticky, I do think that the results are worth the effort. This is especially true with Ina’s recipe. Her flavorful and light soda bread makes the perfect treat for St. Patrick’s Day…or really any day of the year.
Bake on and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!