St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. carries a lot of connotations. Green, shamrocks, beer, leprechauns, pots of gold, beer, luck, rainbows…did I mention beer?
I’m not a fan of beer. I’m a bread gal, through and through. And what better time of year to try your hand at making Irish Soda Bread?
Answer: none. Roll up those sleeves and preheat that oven people. We’re goin’ green – and for once, I’m not talking about the environment.
This is the first recipe I’ve made from the big yellow food bible, also know as The Gourmet Cookbook.
After hours of online research in a quest for the ideal soda bread recipe, it finally hit me: go to Gourmet. You can’t go wrong there. True story. They have not one, but two recipes for this particular kind of bread – I went with the Irish Brown Soda Bread. Love me some whole grain action!
Irish Brown Soda Bread (ever-so-slightly adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. oats (not instant – but I don’t have to tell you that, right? 😉
1/4 c. toasted wheat germ
1 tsp. sea salt (scant tsp. unless using table salt)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 stick or 4 T. cold unsalted butter
1 1/3 c. buttermilk
If your wheat germ needs toasting:
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Spread 1/4 c. wheat germ on a silpat or baking sheet (it shouldn’t stick much, so don’t worry about greasing the pan yet) and stick it in for about 2 1/2 – 5 minutes, depending on the intensity of your oven. Mine, for example, is a beast and in 3 minutes my wheat germ was a little well-done. Moral of the story: watch your wheat germ.
On to the good stuff:
Now preheat your oven to 425 F.
Cut the butter into bits and set aside or back in the fridge – you want it cold. Ireland-in-January-cold.
Get all the dry ingredients mingling together in a large bowl and whisk it all together.
Throw in the butter bits and toss the mix around to coat – don’t get too intense about this. We’re talking seconds here.
Ok, now you want to work the butter into the mix with your fingertips. You can use a pastry blender too, but if you actually have a pastry blender, I probably didn’t even need to tell you that.
Anyway, you want to get the mix to look like a “coarse meal.” I’ve never done this before, so I was a little anxious. Don’t worry – it’s pretty hard to eff-up butter. You basically want to massage the butter into the dough. It takes a bit of elbow grease, and if your counters/working space is a little on the high side, you may want to do this at a table that is hip-height. Or just flex your marching band backstep muscles and stand on your toes like me.
Now measure out your buttermilk and stir it in. I started with a spoon and switched to my hands after a while – sometimes messier = easier.
At this point, your dough [and hands] will be quite sticky and dare I say, gloppy. That’s ok! Just make sure you have floured the heck out of your work surface – and keep that flour canister handy. Knead the dough for about a minute and try not to get frustrated with its stickiness. This might be the most difficult step of the entire recipe. I promise you the result is worth it!
Your oven should be ready and rarin’ to go! Plop that dough on a silpat/greased/lined & floured baking sheet and form it into a 7-inch-wide round. Use a knife to mark a shallow X in the top.
It’s completely acceptable to pretend you are Zorro when you make the X. [Xorro?]
Now bake that dough-baby for 30-40 minutes or more – it should sound hollow when you tap the bottom. It took my loaf a looooong time to get close to that, probably closer to an hour, and I even think I took it out a little early. But I’m a big fan of doughy bread, so I had no problem with this. Personal choice.
Sit it on a rack – not a sheet or cutting board because the bottom will get soggy (yes, I did learn that the hard way) – and let it cool for about 2 hours before cutting it. That’s what the directions told me, anyway, although I don’t think the world would stop spinning if you cut into a little early.
Holy Saint Patrick, this bread is SO GOOD. It tastes incredible – crusty, dense, doughy, with the subtlest hint of sweetness from the buttermilk. I just had it plain today because I think fresh bread is best eaten naked, but I’m pretty sure this is going to make some epic toast and grilled cheeses in the incredibly near future. And it didn’t take that long to make – we’re talking half an hour prep time tops.
Mission: Irish Soda Bread Accomplished. Move over, Guinness. This is officially the best way to celebrate this holiday. Ever.
Oh, and about the luck? Tonight I also poached first egg ever with great success, and created a pretty awesome roasted chickpea recipe off the top of my head in minutes. This bread is better than pot of gold any day.
I know what you’re thinking – that stupid leftover buttermilk. Stay tuned, my friends. I’ve got you covered.