This week’s TWD recipe is Irish Soda Bread, in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day this past weekend (did you do anything fun?).
The bread gets its name from its use of, well what else, baking soda. As a researcher by day, I like to learn about the origin of different types of foods and how they evolved over time. According to this article, baking in Ireland has been influenced by two main factors. The first one being the Irish climate, which is much more temperate than other European countries and thus prevented hard wheats from growing properly. Hard wheats have high gluten content and are thus suitable for being raised with yeast. Soft wheats on the other hand do grow well in Ireland but contain less gluten than hard wheats (American all-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheats). The second factor was the abundance of fuel such as firewood. This meant that every household could bake at home instead of using a communal oven.
These two factors contributed to the Irish baker using baking soda, or ‘bread soda’ in Ireland, as the main leavening agent. And traditionally this soda bread was baked in a pot (called a bastible) over the fire rather than in an oven. I also learned from this interesting interview with Irish chef Rory O’Connell that Irish soda bread in America is quite different from the one you can find in Ireland as the addition of butter and eggs, which is common in the U.S., would raise eyebrows over there.
I really enjoyed making this bread. The recipe was exceedingly simple, as it only required 4 ingredients (flour, salt, buttermilk and baking soda) and no kneading time. You can really make the dough in 10 minutes, then pop it into the oven for about 50 minutes and end up with a beautiful loaf of bread.
Dave and I bought buttermilk from our local Amish market (located a mere 5 minutes away from our apartment) and made several versions of the bread. I’ll have to admit that we did not stick to the traditional Irish way. Dave saw some chocolate yogurt covered raisins in the supermarket and got so excited about using them that I couldn’t resist, oh boy.
The bread turned out great (pictured above), a nice crust and a very dense crumb*, not at all dry, that’s good for spreads and dipping. Initially I thought that it tasted a wee bit too salty but then realized that maybe it’s meant to be eaten like a scone or biscuit? We gave half the loaf away to a friend who texted us the next day to let us know that her friend’s 17-month-old baby loved it. Always makes you happy when others appreciate your baking (and what good taste this baby has, really).
Since I had buttermilk left, I decided to make another loaf the next day. Dave had been badgering me about creating an ‘Asian’ version. So I give to you: the first-ever Dried Shrimp and Scallion Soda Bread.
Obviously, I’m not calling this bread ‘Irish’ anymore – wonder what Chef O’Connell would think. Dave came up with the combo, and I must say it was a pretty good idea. I only baked a small loaf (about the quarter the size of the previous one) because I didn’t have a lot of dried shrimp left at home. We ate it for breakfast alongside fried eggs drizzled with soy sauce.
*So in French, we have a word for crust (‘croute’) and we also have a word for the inside of the bread (‘mie’). When I put ‘mie’ in my online dictionary, here’s what it gives me: “bread without the crusts” and “soft interior of bread”. Huh?
Irish Soda Bread
This was baked as part of the TWD series, so for the basic 4-ingredient recipe head on to:
For the sweet version shown in the first picture, here’s what we added to the base recipe:
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4-1/3 cup chocolate covered raisins
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/4-1/3 cup dried shrimp, cut up in small pieces
- 1/3 cup chopped scallions
- When you’ve mixed all the ingredients, the dough will be quite wet and very soft. This is normal so do not fret.
- Do not overknead the dough.
- Cutting the cross on the dough right before baking keeps the crust from cracking.
- The recipe says that the bread will turn rock hard by the end of the day but I, and many other people, have not found it to be the case. Just wrap it tightly (I put mine in a big ziploc) and it will still be good the next day.
- I greased my baking sheet with olive oil the first day, and canola oil the second day (it’s just less messy than butter). My second loaf had a slightly nutty fragrance, which was great, that was almost reminiscent of you tiao and I wonder if it’s because of the canola oil.
- Watch this short video of Julia Child baking Irish soda bread with Marion Cunningham and you’ll see how easy it is!