Lá Fhéile Pádraig! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)
Today, I take special pride and pleasure in all things Irish and in wearing my Bushmill’s T-shirt.
St. Patrick’s Day has always been a holiday of note in my memory — and not just because I would be pinched by my classmates at school if I didn’t wear green on that day! I remember my mother playing Irish ballads on the record player — such as “Whiskey in the Jar” and “Wearing of the Green” — and if Mom learned of a film set in Ireland (“The Quiet Man” and “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” are the first two that come to mind), we watched it!
Family lore has it that I have Irish heritage on at least my maternal side of my family, and likely Irish and/or possibly Scottish on my paternal side of the family. No big surprise, eh? When my hubby and I made a “someday is now” decision and traveled to Ireland, London, and Paris in 2006, the friendly, talkative, and utterly charming young man we chatted with on a chilly Sunday evening in a Galway pub simply rolled his eyes — yes, quite literally 😉 — when I claimed Irish heritage on both sides of my family. He’d recently returned from a business trip to the States and said, good-naturedly, “Yes, I think you and almost every other American are ‘Irish,’ aren’t you?” 🙂
Alhough there are many utterly delicious Irish dishes we could enjoy in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day today, like many U.S. citizens who want to recognize this holiday, we’ll be having corned beef and cabbage. And to go along with our corned beef and cabbage (and vegetables — it’s a truly delicious one pot meals, folks!), I’ll be making Irish Soda Bread.
I’ve found that an amazing number of people are actually afraid to make bread! I mean, I’ve seen folks break out into a cold sweat and get the shakes at the mere thought of making bread. But honestly, making bread is nothing to be afraid of! Generally speaking, bread is a fairly forgiving medium, and as the ingredients are usually some of the more affordable items in your pantry, hopefully, you won’t find yourself risking financial catastrophe if it your effort doesn’t turn out well.
My Irish Soda Bread is based on a recipe from my 1974 edition (the seventeenth printing!) of Sunset Cook Book of Breads. Inspired by my mom, a most excellent and intrepid cook and baker, I purchased the book — or maybe my parents purchased it for me? — when I was in elementary school. My name is scrawled in the cover in my elementary school hand, and there are annotations penciled beside various recipes, spanning from my elementary school years to within the past few years — including penciled check marks I made by some key, basic recipes that I annotated for my late dad, as per his request, for him to photocopy for reference when he worked for a year in Saudia Arabia (for an oil company as a computer programmer) when I was in junior high school, as he thought that bread-making might be a productive “hobby” for him to help pass his spare time there.
This worn volume with its stained pages ranks as one of my most beloved books.
There are, of course, many variations on Irish Soda Bread. It can be made with wheat flour (as in the photo above) or with white flour (which is how I always make it). But regardless, it always has a cross shape cut into it. As Wikipedia tells us:
There are several theories as to the significance of the cross in Irish soda bread. Some believe that the cross was placed in the bread to ward off evil (the devil) or to let the fairies out of the bread. However, it is probable that the cross is used to help with the cooking of the bread by allowing air circulation so that the bread rises better. The cross also serves as a guideline for even slices.
Myself, I want a little magic in my life, so I’m voting for letting the fairies out and warding off evil. 🙂
This recipe calls for buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use “sour” milk as a substitute: for every 1 cup of buttermilk you need, use 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice and enough milk to equal 1 cup; let sit for several minutes before using. You can also substitute 1 cup plain (unflavored) yogurt for 1 cup buttermilk. Be aware that if you use a substitution, it won’t be the same as the original ingredient. You might like it better; you might like it less; or you may just consider it simply to be a variant.
But you won’t know about any of it all unless you try.
This recipe makes two 8″ loaves. I usually halve it, but I still use 1 whole egg in the recipe, and I eyeball the halving of the buttermilk — it’s bread, it’s rather forgiving, and sometimes it needs a bit more or a bit less liquid. Nothing to sweat over, I promise!
Irish Soda Bread (Makes 2 loaves. The recipe this is based on calls for 1/8 teaspoon cardamom or coriander, which is listed as optional, and which I’ve never include. Recipe halves easily; I still use one whole egg when I halve it.)
- 4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup sugar, optional (I always include it — helps the bread rise & helps the texture)
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar.
- Add butter or margarine and cut in with a pastry blender or the dull edge of two knives until crumbly.
- Beat egg slightly and mix with buttermilk; add to dry ingredients and stir until blended.
- Turn out on to a floured surface and knead until smooth, just two or three minutes. (Myself, I find kneading bread dough to be quite therapeutic.)
- If desired, lightly spray two 8″ cake (or pie) pans. Lightly sprinkle cornmeal into the bottom of the pans. (This is a tip I got from Mom!)
- Divide dough in half and shape each into a round loaf. Place each loaf in in an 8″ cake (or pie) pan. Press down until dough fills pan.
- With a SHARP knife, cut crosses on tops of loaves, about 1/2″ deep in the middle.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Turn out of pan onto a cloth on a wire rack to cool.
I promise, you’ll be saying “That smells yummy!”