Irish Soda Bread

Hey! Happy St. Patrick's Day! Even if you're not Irish, it's still fun to eat Irish food. So, we will we be having corned beef with plenty of carrots and potatoes with this Irish Soda Bread (if there is any left by tomorrow ).

From the research I did on the history of this delicious bread, here's what I learned. In Ireland, soft winter wheat was best suited to the climate, so this is what they grew. When mixed like a traditional dough it doesn't form the gluten necessary to rise into a yeasted type bread. In this poor country, bread was made with the most basic ingredients available ; flour, baking soda, soured milk and salt. The baking soda and the acid in the milk help the bread to rise, but only slightly. The resulting texture is a dense, cake like bread, which was daily fare in many Irish homes.

Although, there are lots of variations of the basic recipe to be found, I think this one by Ina Garten is super delicious. It has a slight sweetness from currants and orange peel, and also some butter and an egg which is a bonus for the texture. This bread comes together quickly and in a little over an hour you'll have the finished product.

In a mixing bowl, add flour, baking soda and salt and mix with paddle attachment until blended. Then add 1/2 stick butter, cut into small cubes. Blend gently until butter is mixed into flour.

Zest an orange, and mix it with buttermilk and one egg. Stir everything together in the measuring cup (no need to dirty another bowl), and with mixer running on low speed, slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients.

Take a tablespoon of flour and mix it with the currants. This will help keep them evenly dispersed in the bread. Then add the currants in the flour to the dough and mix gently. This dough will be moist when you turn it out on a well floured board or counter. Knead the dough, working in as much flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the surface. Shape into a round loaf.

With a sharp knife, score the bread in the shape of an X or a cross. Legend has it that folks did this to "let the devil out" while it was baking for good luck. It could have been for ease in breaking the bread into pieces and it was a symbol for the cross during Christian holidays.

Place loaf on a piece of parchment paper and bake on sheet pan or in a cast iron skillet. Bake for 45-50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, until cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it should sound hollow.

Slice or break off into pieces and enjoy with some good Irish butter, of course.

Ina Garten's Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 T. sugar

1 t. baking soda

1 1/2 t. kosher salt

4 T. ( 1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch diced

1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk

1 extra large egg, lightly beaten

1 t. grated orange zest

1 cup dried currants

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet or cast iron skillet with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed; slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 T. of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan or skillet and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45-55 minute, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf; it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

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