Planning ahead for Saint Patrick’s Day I did zero research for a recipe, banking on someone in my mom’s family sharing an ancient family dish with me. After all, her maiden name is Brady, so someone had to have a stained, faded, chicken-scratch written Irish recipe hidden in their vault, right? Good food is inevitable at any Brady celebration, and Saint Patrick’s Day is no exception.
My major specifications were: I didn’t want to make a potato dish (because if it serve 6, I’ll eat 3 servings); corned beef and cabbage was out (I have my fair share of each throughout the year); and I wanted to bake. I contacted my Aunt Colleen, thinking if anyone had an original Irish Soda Bread recipe, it would be her. No such luck- though she has many specialties in the kitchen, it seems a Brady family soda bread recipe simply does not exist.
My next inquiry consisted of only Google and persistence; requesting recipes from the popular search engine requires endurance and an open mind. Google’s new “recipe” search function helps a bit, but still, with a return of over 70,000 Irish Soda Bread recipes I didn’t even know where to begin. Before I could develop a list of groceries, or head into the kitchen, I figured I needed to learn the history and tradition of soda bread and why it is important in Irish culinary culture.
According to The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, the product we see packaged in grocery stores and markets around this time of the year is, most likely, not even bread. Traditional soda bread consists of solely flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda. Some conventional versions will go as far outside the box as adding butter, but anything with dried fruit, sugar or honey, eggs, or even whiskey sounds more like ingredients for cake. The appeal of soda bread, when it was first created, was that it was inexpensive, practical, and required very little time to make. Additionally, the loaves were baked in bastible pots, or dutch ovens, over a fire. This authentic recipe can be whipped up in less than an hour, including baking time.
Brown Soda Bread served with Honey Butter
3 cups of wheat flour
1 cup of white flour (do not use self-rising as it already contains baking powder and salt)
14 ounces of buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 ½ teaspoon of baking soda
4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tablespoon of honey
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour a dutch oven, or round cake pan. In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk; lightly mix with your hands to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape) Shape into a round, flat shape in a dutch oven round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough. Cover and bake for 30 minutes (if using a round cake pan, cover with another cake pan. After time has elapsed, remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done. Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist. Generously mix butter and honey together until smooth; slather some on the warm bread and enjoy!
The ingredients are plain, and result is a very simple bread with a little bit of character. Using wheat flour adds a gritty, earthy feel to the loaf and proved a somewhat sweet flavor, though you could use 4 cups of white flour instead. The hard, crusty exterior conceals a dense, crumbly interior; luckily, it’s almost required to have a hot cup of coffee or tea on hand to wash it down. The honey flavored butter accentuates the wheat flavor, and when topped on warm bread it almost hydrates the somewhat dry bread.
Though this recipe is relatively historically accurate, who am I do place limitations on changing a recipe to accommodate your tastes? After all, that is probably why the soda bread we are more familiar with is a sweet, raisin-laced baked good. Over time, our Irish grandmothers, moms and aunts added special touches to their own recipes, resulting in our own family traditions, which are far more meaningful than a culturally precise loaf of bread. Perhaps your recipes are in your family vault, hand-written in chicken-scratch, on an old index card, stained equally from time and cooking. This Saint Patty’s Day, stick with your own tradition; however, if you’re trying to begin a new one, like me, this Brown Irish Soda Bread will do the trick.