American-style and Classic Irish Soda Bread

Rob is half Irish so St. Patrick's Day is his second favorite food holiday after Thanksgiving. I've made Guinness beef stew a few times, but it's mainly the Irish soda bread that he looks forward to. Since I'm not crazy about the American style with caraway seeds, every year I add in a Classic loaf for myself.

Throwing together Irish soda bread is a no fuss, no small appliances affair. Just whisk, mush, knead a few times, and then bake your lumpy creation to golden perfection. I happen to have a warm slice with Harry's Berries jam sitting beside me as I type this post. Delicious.

Useless Facts

  • Soda breads first appeared in American cookbooks during the late 18th century. Interestingly, this is several decades before bicarbonate of soda (i.e. soda bread) found its way to Ireland. That happened around 1840.
  • If your Irish soda bread has raisins, it's called "Spotted Dog" or "Railway Cake". If it has eggs, sugar, or baking powder it's called "cake", not "bread". So, if we're going to be purists about this then neither of the recipes below are bread. I will gladly eat cake for breakfast.
  • The climate in Ireland is such that "hard" wheats (i.e. high in gluten) don't thrive. Since wheats high in gluten work best with yeast, it makes sense that the Irish were drawn to bicarbonate of soda as a primary leavening agent since it works well with soft flour.

Recipe

The recipes below have cake flour, but I'd like to try using a bit more when I bake another batch of Irish soda bread on Sunday. Maybe 10oz AP and 9oz cake? As mentioned above, low protein flour is "traditional" so I'll update this post after I give it a try.

UPDATE: I made the bread again with the 10oz AP / 9oz cake flour ratio and have to say that it was very good. The texture is just a touch lighter. I'll probably use this ratio moving forward for both my Classic and American-style Irish Soda Bread recipes.



Classic Irish Soda Bread Ingredients (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

  • 3 cups (15 ounces) low-protein unbleached all-purpose flour Note: By "low protein" it means you should avoid King Arthur which has 4g of protein per 1/4 cup. Use Gold Medal (or similar) which has 3g per 1/4 cup. UPDATE: I made this bread again using 10oz AP / 9oz cake flour ratio and liked the texture very much. The original ratio of 15/4 makes a denser crumb so it's simply a matter of taste - both are delicious.
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) plain cake flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter for the crust
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter to grease the parchment
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Classic Irish Soda Bread Instructions (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

  • Move oven rack to upper-middle position and heat to 400 degrees
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then lightly coat with butter
  • Whisk all of the dry ingredients together - flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt
  • Add the softened butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it has a coarse texture Note: It's easy to feel the change in texture with your hands, that's why I don't use a fork for this part. Plus it's fun.
  • Add the buttermilk and stir until the dough starts to come together
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times until it's cohesive but still lumpy Note: It's really important that you don't knead the dough beyond forming it into a cohesive ball. The uglier the better.
  • Form the dough into a 6-inch round loaf, score the top, and then bake for 40-45 minutes Note: The internal temperature should be around 180. Using a thermometer is the best way to tell if the bread is done.
  • Once the bread is finished baking, brush the top with the melted butter (on the parchment since that makes for easy cleanup), and then cool on a wire rack

American-style Irish Soda Bread Ingredients (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

  • 3 cups (15 ounces) low-protein unbleached all-purpose flour Note: By "low protein" it means you should avoid King Arthur which has 4g of protein per 1/4 cup. Use Gold Medal (or similar) that has 3g per 1/4 cup. UPDATE: I made this bread again using 10oz AP / 9oz cake flour ratio and liked the texture very much. The original ratio of 15/4 makes a denser crumb so it's simply a matter of taste - both are delicious.
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) plain cake flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter for the crust
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter to grease the parchment
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds

American-style Irish Soda Bread Instructions (Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

  • Move oven rack to upper-middle position and heat to 400 degrees
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then lightly coat with butter
  • Whisk all of the dry ingredients together - flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt
  • Add the softened butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it has a coarse texture Note: It's easy to feel the change in texture with your hands, that's why I don't use a fork for this part. Plus it's fun.
  • Add the raisins and caraway seeds
  • Combine the egg and buttermilk, then add mixture and stir until the dough starts to come together
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few times until it's cohesive but still lumpy Note: It's really important that you don't knead the dough beyond forming it into a cohesive ball. The uglier the better. UPDATE: I made the bread again and, to make for easier cleaning, simply turned and kneaded the dough right in the bowl. Not only did the method work perfectly, but it's probably the best loaf of Irish Soda Bread that I've made.
  • Form the dough into a 6-inch round loaf, score the top, and then bake for 40-45 minutes. Note: The internal temperature should be around 180. Using a thermometer is the best way to tell if the bread is done.
  • Once the bread is finished baking, brush the top with melted butter (on the parchment since that makes for easy cleanup), and then cool on a wire rack

Serving Suggestions

Harry's Berries at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

  • Whipped butter - Plain is excellent, but if you want to get creative maybe try this Salty Whiskey Butter from A Cozy Kitchen.
  • Jam (on it) - I love eating a warm piece of my Classic Irish Soda Bread with strawberry jam. A little butter makes it even better.
  • Sauce Mop - Serve alongside your favorite Irish stew.

Storage

Irish Soda Bread does not keep for very long, maybe a day or two. The texture is best the day it's made. To store, simply wrap the loaf in a dish towel and set on the kitchen counter.

Article Tags : baking, bread, breakfast, holidays
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