Project Wonderful

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Soda Bread

St. Patrick's Day is upon us here at the pillow fort, and we follow a traditional Irish meal of corned beef, cabbage and soda bread.

The corned beef and cabbage were just tossed in the slow cooker with enough water to cover everything and some beer. Traditionally I would use Guinness, but having none at hand, I went with a bottle of Shiner Bock. After all, this is Texas and you have to inject some Texas flavor in everything you cook. I think it's in a rule book somewhere.

Soda bread is a type of "quick bread" that uses baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) instead of yeast to make the bread rise. This recipe uses buttermilk, and for a couple of reasons: 1, the baking soda reacts with the lactic acid of the buttermilk to make bubbles which helps to give the bread a light, tender consistency. And 2, it's awesome for flavor.

Fair warning: If you've never worked with buttermilk, you would swear it's just nasty, spoiled milk. It's thick, clumpy and not something you'd want to drink. But for baking, this, my friends, is the nectar of the gods. Buttermilk is one of those little secret ingredients in baking that will make whatever you bake with it stand out from the rest. Trust me: it's awesome.  

Don't have buttermilk? No worries! You can easily make it at home with milk and lemon juice. Just mix one cup of milk (whole or heavy cream work best) with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and let it stand for 5-10 minutes. The lemon juice curdles the milk - which, as gross as this may sound - is what actually makes this recipe work great for baking. 

This soda bread recipe is probably one of the easier breads to make. It doesn't take much work and you don't need to let the dough rise, knock it down, then let it rise again like typical yeast breads. Total time from start to finish is about 2 hours. 

So roll up your sleeves and let's bake some bread!

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup dried currants (or raisins)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375ยบ F. 

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and softened butter. 

Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk, the egg and the currants. It will be dry, slightly clumpy and a mess. Resist the urge to add more milk or liquid to the mix. This is the consistency you want. Seriously. 

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly, just enough to get all the ingredients to combine. Any more kneading will only make for tough, heavy bread. 

Form the dough into a round and place on the baking sheet. 

Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf. Some people say this is supposed to be a cross for a reminder of Christ or something. BALDERDASH. Cutting an X into the dough helps it to expand and rise when baking. That's all. Plus it looks cool.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk and brush the loaf with this mixture. You will have a lot left over. This is OK. Just brush the loaf with the buttermilk mixture as it bakes.

Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes, but check for doneness after 30 minutes. 

Brush any of the leftover buttermilk/ butter mixture on the loaf as it cools. 


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