Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's Good to Be Irish

My Mom made Irish soda bread now and then while I was growing up and I enjoyed the soft, warm bread with some butter and jam, but the most memorable soda bread was the loaf made by Aunt May when we visited the family in New York. I was in high school and interested in baking so she showed me her recipe and how she made it. Aunt May, as fully Irish as my Mom, served hers with tea in the afternoon and then I helped her with the 'washing up'. He loaf was very tender and not at all dry. She used currants and buttermilk. Butter and jam were still the accompaniments, but the bread was delicious all by itself.

This month the Bread Baking Babes are making Irish soda bread with herbs with the recipe coming form the very Irish The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen. Remembering my Aunt May's soda bread I strayed from the recipe a bit. First of all I only made half the recipe. If all by siblings were here for tea I would make the whole batch, but a half batch is much more sensible for two. I decided to make it for breakfast on the weekend, so I went for slightly sweet instead of with herbs. Not having any currants on hand I added 1/4 cup golden raisins instead.

Good soda bread is soft and tender as a good biscuit, but better for you (especially if you use whole wheat flour for part of the flour as I did. To up the authenticity I used King Arthur Flour's Irish Wholemeal Flour which is even more coarse than most whole wheat flours ) because you don't use any added fat as you do with biscuits. Buttermilk gives some of the properties of fat and the additional blessing of tanginess. Key to success is to handle the ingredients with a very light hand and barely mix them together. I used my spread fingers since this is the method recommended by Tim Allen. It's messy, but you do get a lovely light, tender, moist loaf that way. Butter and jam optional.

Do check out the other Babes' blogs for their take on Soda Bread. Bet most of them followed the recipe and used herbs. I plan to make another half batch myself and do that, too.

Best of all, you can easily be a Buddy this month. This lovely little loaf goes together really, really quickly and bakes up in a little over a half hour, so you can have hot, fresh, delicious bread on the table in no time! To be a Buddy, bake the bread (the recipe is below), post about it, and then send an e-mail with a link for your post to our lovely Ilva so she can send you a badge. Links for the Babes, including Ilva's blog are at the right. Come on, give this Soda Bread a can pretend to be Irish even if it isn't St. Patrick's Day.

White Soda Bread with Herbs

from The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen

1 loaf

450 g/1lb plain white four
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda, finely sieved
1 dessert spoon each of rosemary, sage and chives, all freshly chopped
400 ml/ 14 fl oz buttermilk

Heat up the oven to 230 degrees C/450 degrees F

Sieve the flour, salt and bread soda into a large, wide mixing bowl. Add the freshly chopped herbs to the dry ingredients.

Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk into the flour. Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.

The trick with all soda breads is not to over-mix the dough. Mix the dough as quickly and as gently as possible, keeping it really light and airy. When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands.

Gently roll the ball of dough around with floury hands for a few seconds, just enough to tidy up. Then pat it gently into a round, about 5 cm/2 in high.

Place the dough on a lightly floured baking sheet. With a sharp knife cut a deep cross in the middle of it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Then prick the four triangles with your knife: according to Irish folklore this will let the fairies out!

Put this into your preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F for a further 25 minutes, or until cooked. When the bread is cooked it will sound hollow when tapped.

Elle's variation: Add 1 tablespoon granulated sugar to the dry ingredients. Add 1/4 cup golden raisins to the dry ingredients and mix well until they are coated with flour. Omit all the herbs. Otherwise, follow the recipe as written.


  1. I love the idea of currants in soda bread!! And I'm so relieved to know that I'm not the only one who can't stop from making changes to the recipe.

    What a beautiful loaf!

  2. Very pretty! Love the sweet, homey version.

  3. Great loaf! Lovely to read about your memories eating this in your childhood.

  4. A gast! I am. Changed the recipe! Whole wheat, golden raisins!

    ;-) Like when do we not change the recipe?

    But ... You've intro'ed the age old dichotomy of sweet and savory again. I've tried the raisins and it's good. Gorn would probably prefer it with golden raisins and or cranberries. I love the herbs in this ... but I'll probably enjoy this one equally as well just plain.

    Hahaha ... As I write this, I see a raisin cranberry loaf in my future. My Dad is visiting and he and Gorn will love it.

  5. I'll have mine warm, with butter and honey, please. NOW!

  6. I'd really like to try this recipe with raisins (or other added goodies ;-)
    Love yoursElle!

  7. So delicious for breakfast. Can I have butter *and* jam?

  8. You seem to have inspired us all to experiment with our soda breads-I must try to make a sweet one too!

  9. Anonymous9:24 AM

    This is interesting. I made the traditional version from the old family recipe (Aunt May, who came over from Ireland) and was thinking about blogging it here, but too late! I was late in the baking too, after St. Patric's Day, but I shared with my co-workers as St. Procrastinator's Day Soda Bread.

    A word about that receipe. It calls for currants (you can use rasins, but it is not authentic (you can't get grape jelly, even, in England) and caraway seeds for the savory. I couldn't taste it in my head (I usually can) but it was a delicious combination. The currants are smaller and not quite as sweet. Most groceries carry them, although you may need to hunt them down. Try that variation and see what you think.


  10. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Two more comments: The recipe as I have it uses butter cut into the dough, and the real trick is to tell when it is done. Tapping on the crust should give a hollow sound, but you may need to practice this technique. If in doubt, I recommend baking a bit longer. This is a thick chunk of dough and it needs some time to bake all the way through.


  11. Elizabeth, I keep forgetting the Babes have no rules...LOL
    Lien, I miss Aunt May some days when I have afternoon memories are the best.
    Tanna,Raisin cranberry sounds so good...and then try apricot pecan :) I made that for Fathers Day it is was excellent.
    Katie, a slice with butter and honey coming up.
    Baking Soda,You may even want to try it with currants...
    Susan, you can have butter and jam...and toasted first so the butter melts!
    Ilva, and I'll try the herby one.
    No Handle, You are right, Aunt May did make it with currants and caraway seeds, and so did Mom.Thirty-fice minutes seemed to work perfectly for the halved recipe. I would bake it longer for a full really is a thick loaf.