Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Irish bread for the Ireland-bound

Obviously I’m a few months late with the ubiquitous Irish Soda Bread post that every food blogger wrote during March in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. And I did celebrate my heritage (I’m indeed a part-Irish lass) then by eating a few slices of the traditional quick bread. But now, I’m baking it myself in honor of my impending trip to the Emerald Isle. In less than two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Dublin, seeing the country for the first time and taking the one vacation that I – quite literally – have been dreaming of for years.

In order to adequately prepare myself, I’ve spent the past several weeks immersing myself in all things Irish, from listening to the Chieftans to reading anthologies of Irish literature (typical English student…I’ve actually enjoyed the literary criticism the most). And although my trip will primarily be a literary tour, I have not forgotten about the food.

The Irish are known for their storytelling and their irresistible brogues, not their cuisine. However, from what I hear, this is changing as quickly as Ireland itself. Still, I’m looking forward to sampling the tried and true food of Ireland: the potatoes, the cheeses, and of course, the bread. As part of my Ireland countdown, I knew that a loaf of Irish Soda Bread would be in order. And this recipe was so easy to make, I feel like it was hardly baking at all. But, when I look at it that way, it seems vaguely insulting to the Irish: “This bread is so simple, an Irish cook can make it!”

It’s not difficult to see why this bread has sustained the Irish for as long as it has; not only is it a cinch to throw together, it’s crumbly texture and buttery taste are absolutely mouth-watering at any time of the day, as a breakfast companion, a tea-time snack, or a dinner precursor. And as I’ve said before, the smell of bread baking is easily one of the most stirring scents in existence; this bread proves to be no exception. For this particular recipe, I added a touch more buttermilk than the required 1 1/3 cups, and it turned out quite well. I also omitted the caraway seeds, but I'm sure that their presence would have made the bread even better.

And as for the cross I cut in the middle of the bread: apparently it’s a purely useful practice that serves as a guideline for the slices, but I like to think that this particular cross is warding off any evil spirits trying to mess with me in the coming month.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup currants or raisins
3 tsp. caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk, caraway seeds, and raisins; mix just until moistened.
Place dough on floured surface and knead. Shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a deep 1/2-inch "X" in top of dough. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.
Bake 1 hour or until golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.

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