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.