Traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe
With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I was looking through my cookbooks and poking around online for a recipe for Irish soda bread. I found the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. According to the site, soda bread developed in the mid-1840s, after baking soda was introduced to Ireland as a leavening agent.
Irish wheat is soft wheat, which has less gluten than hard wheat. And since gluten is important in making a good yeast bread, it’s not surprising that the Irish would adopt a leavening agent that doesn’t require gluten. The closest match we have in Canada to what was available in 19th-century Ireland is not bread flour or all-purpose flour, but cake flour.
The Society has very strong opinions about what belongs in a traditional soda bread:
If your “soda bread” has raisins, it’s not “soda bread! It’s called “Spotted Dog” or “Railway Cake”! If it contains raisins, eggs, baking powder, sugar or shortening, it’s called “cake”, not “bread.”
Would “French Bread” (15th century) still be “French Bread” if whiskey, raisins, or other random ingredients were added to the mix? Would Jewish Matzo (unleavened bread) used to remember the passage of the Israelites out of Egypt still be Matzo if we add raisins, butter, sugar, eggs, and even orange zest? So why is traditional “Irish Soda Bread” (19th century) turned into a dessert and labeled “Traditional Irish Soda Bread?”
And the kicker:
One on-line recipe claiming to be “traditional” included “orange zest” as an ingredient. As if our poverty-stricken ancestors even knew what orange zest was.
I’m convinced. I’ll follow the Society’s recommendations, including baking it in a Dutch oven—similar to a 19th-century bastible, the vessel which would have been used.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
4 cups cake-and-pastry flour (1 L)
1 tsp baking soda (5 ml)
1 tsp salt (5 ml)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (425 ml)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Lightly grease and flour a Dutch oven.
2. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients, then mix in buttermilk to form a sticky dough. On a floured surface, knead dough very lightly, just enough to form into a flattened ball. Place dough in Dutch oven, and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
3. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for an additional 15–20 minutes, until bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.
4. Remove Dutch oven; allow bread to cool for a few minutes, before transferring it to a wire rack. Cover with a damp tea towel to keep bread moist. Irish soda bread should sit for a few hours before eating, if you can hold out.