Our recipe this month was for Rose’s Royal Irish Soda Bread. Since I had never had soda bread, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on the topic. My first finding is that this bread would not be considered to be an authentic Irish Soda Bread in the mind of a purist. In fact, I learned through an article in Epicurious (AKA Bon Appétit) that soda bread purists will tell you that this is not the real thing. Indeed, there is a society dedicated to the preservation of Irish Soda Bread – who knew?
According to an article published in the Tampa Bay Times (which includes this recipe) Irish Soda Breads, as Rodney Dangerfield would say just don’t get no respect. These are humble breads –prepared with the most basic set of ingredients: flour, salt, buttermilk, and baking soda. Any additions like butter or raisins are not true to the original recipe. These were considered to be luxury add-on items. As stated by Irish chef Rory O’Connell in the Epicurious article, when modified with these luxe items it should be considered as “_____ [you fill in the blank] bread on a soda bread base”.
I would consider this to be the simplest bread we have made thus far as there is no yeast, therefore no need to allow the bread time to rise. The finished product has some similarities with the scones we made back in June. You can find that post here.
As usual, Rose provides solid techniques and at least one variation. If you’ve followed my Bread Bible posts, you know that I always like to try the variations, and I actually baked this recipe twice. My first time around, I omitted the raisins as I wanted a more authentic bread as described in the Epicurious article. I also used a blend of 50% all purpose flour and 50% whole wheat flour. Rose provided a whole wheat blend as an option, and for this bread, I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat due to its milder taste. This bread became a lovely golden brown throughout. It reminded me of cornbread perhaps because of its texture and the buttermilk and baking soda combo.
The second time around I stuck close to the original recipe. I used King Arthur’s all purpose flour and instead of soaking the raisins in Irish whiskey, which I didn’t have, I used dark rum. I figured that nobody would really know the difference, as the flavor from the alcohol is subtle. I still ended up with a very golden bread, I suppose because although the raisins were drained there was a tiny bit of brown fluid to color the dough.
I will note two products that I used which I had not had experience with before. For both loaves I used an organic “cream top” buttermilk from Kalona Farms. According to their website, they use sweet cream to produce their buttermilk which they say “…allows us to not only improve the health benefits of our product but it is also more sustainable. We now can use every drop of sweet cream buttermilk that is created when we produce butter. “ I am not a buttermilk connoisseur and would never drink the stuff, but it did have a nice smell and produced a very tender result. Kalona has an interesting story. They are based in Iowa and source their raw materials from a community that is largely comprised of Amish and Mennonite farmers. Here in Southern California we typically have a single brand of buttermilk, in our grocery stores. It is typically sold in one-quart cartons, it is mass produced, and it is not organic. The Kalona product caught my eye because it was the exact opposite –it’s available in a pint size bottle, it’s not mass produced, and it is organic. I plan to purchase this again for future baking projects.
Both versions were moist and delicious due to the addition of butter, and this is another area where I did a bit of experimentation. For the loaf without raisins, I used Trader Joe’s unsalted butter. When shopping for ingredients my intention was to try the Kerrygold brand as I had not used it before. When I got home I realized that I had accidentally picked up their garlic and herb butter instead of plain unsalted butter. I ended up using the garlic butter on the freshly baked loaf and it tasted really good.
I went back to the store before baking the second loaf and bought the unsalted Kerrygold for that loaf. I believe the butter and buttermilk combined in the second loaf to create a very moist loaf with a nice sweet buttery flavor. I plan to use the Kerrygold in some additional baking projects so that I can continue to compare the results. I did research butter taste tests, and the one test I read ranked Kerrygold third or slightly ahead of my regular Land o’Lakes butter. I’ll also plan to seek out Plurga and Presidént butters for further experimentation during the holiday season. If you have any opinions on these I’d love to hear them.
The final point I’d like to share is that I am a strong believer in using modern tools in my cooking and baking projects. With our busy modern lifestyles, we need to boost our productivity in the kitchen wherever possible. For this soda bread, I used my Breville Sous Chef that I purchased this summer. I used the same technique as described in my June post on making scones. The key with this approach is to use the plastic blade (not the steel blade) and to pulse the ingredients very briefly so that you still have buttery bits. These are necessary for the proper texture so don’t over process it. You want to add the liquid through the feed tube quickly and not over mix. It is okay to use a little flour when shaping the dough (a few spoonfuls) but you don’t want to add too much and toughen the dough up.
Once the dough has been shaped, slash the top and pop it into your pre-heated oven quickly. I did find that I needed a few extra minutes (less than five) in the oven so that a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.
There you have it – an easy but delicious bread. By the way, I did find an interesting recipe for a seeded version from Noreen Kinney that I look forward to trying. You can find that recipe here. Let me know your thoughts and whether you have tried soda bread. I want to hear all about it!