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St. Patrick’s Day recipe: Irish soda bread

March 15, 2011

Published in The Christian Science Monitor

In Ireland, soda bread is not necessarily for special occasions. It’s basic, everyday
 bread, usually whole wheat, baked without sugar or flavorful accoutrement, and 
eaten with soup, gravy, or butter. It’s easy and quick to make: There’s no strenuous
 kneading or time consuming yeast fueled rising involved.

Instead, this bread rises on 
impact when baking soda reacts to acidic buttermilk. Back in the early 19th century,
 when many Irish families did not have an oven, it could be baked in a large covered 
cast iron pot.

 But of course here in America we stray slightly from authentic. For the St. Patrick’s 
Day holiday, I see no harm in a jazzed up soda bread, with a couple tablespoons of 
sugar and dried currants thrown in the batter.

A few tips:

1) Handle the dough with care – the longer it’s mixed, the tougher the end product 
will be.

2) The dough might be very sticky. If it’s too gooey to shape, add extra flour 
(I had to do this). Add more buttermilk if it’s not moist.

3) Don’t forget to cut two 
perpendicular slices on top of the dough before baking. I always thought this was 
for aesthetic reasons. It looks pretty, and makes the loaf easier to slice later. But
 superstitious Irishmen say the cross shape keeps the devilish fairies out. Food
 scientists suggest it’s to help heat penetrate the dough evenly.

Irish soda bread
Serves 8

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 currants (or raisins, if preferred)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheet with butter or oil, or line with 
parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix buttermilk, egg, and oil. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking 
powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour
 mixture, then pour in wet ingredients. Add currants. Carefully blend together all
with a wooden spoon, until dough is soft and moist.

With liberally floured hands, knead dough into a round shape. Place on pan, and
 cut two deep cross-shaped slices across top. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden 
brown. Serve warm, with a bit of butter.

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