As a seasoned cook, I am always surprised when I come across well-known recipes I’ve never tried. I have made many quick breads but never Irish soda bread. Quick breads, by definition, use baking powder, soda or cream of tartar rather than yeast to leaven the breads. In this case, both soda and baking powder are used. These breads are made quickly and with little stirring so that the ingredients have the ability to rise. Recently I came across this recipe from famed Napa Model Bakery’s cookbook (“The Model Bakery Cookbook,” by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen, Chronicle Books, 2013) and had to try it.
Many Americans think of Irish soda bread around St Patrick’s Day since it is traditional to serve it alongside corned beef and cabbage. I decided to get a head start on that menu and tested this very recipe on a dreary winter day. I was fighting a cold and thought it might lift up my spirits — which it did. The authors suggest you will get a much better rise by adding both baking soda and powder together, along with the requisite buttermilk to help stir up the leavening action. What I love about this bread is that it is very crusty on the outside and the bottom of the loaf but the interior has a tender crumb.
This is so fun to make and takes almost no time to put together. Some suggest that the real Irish soda bread had neither sugar nor dried fruit or caraway seeds. I find that adding them to the dough gives a lovely sweet and savory element to the bread. You could use dried cranberries or raisins instead of the currants, if you prefer. Serve this along with any meal — or you can think of this as a giant scone and serve it for either breakfast or tea. Be sure to have some soft unsalted butter to accompany. To sweeten it up, try a lovely fruit jam or even lemon curd. Make sure to serve it warm out of the oven. I also like to serve it along with a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese and a crisp sliced apple.
Irish Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf.
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan and top of the loaf
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces
1/2 cup dried currants (optional)
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, as needed
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 F. Dust the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with flour.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large bowl. Add the butter and stir to coat with the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, with some pea-size pieces of butter. Stir in the currants and caraway seeds (if using). Stir in enough of the buttermilk to make a moist, soft dough, being sure to moisten all of the dry bits on the bottom of the bowl. Knead in the bowl just a few times to be sure the dough comes together — this is not a smooth dough.
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Sprinkle the top with at least 1 tablespoon flour to give the loaf a rustic look. Transfer to the prepared pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow 4-inch wide X in the top of the dough. The X will open during baking and help the loaf bake more evenly.
4. Bake until the top is deep golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the pan. Let cool on a wire cooling rack for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve warm. (The bread is best the day it is made.)