A Taste of Ireland...Soda Bread
by Bridget Haggerty
Taken from www.irishcultureandcustoms.com
There's an ancient Irish proverb that says one should serve only "the newest of food and the oldest of drink." This illustrates exceedingly well the Irish attitude toward baking and distilling or brewing.
In old Ireland, the woman of the house made a variety of breads and cakes which she baked every day in a bastible or pot oven beside the open fire. Whatever she created - from griddle cakes to barm brack, it was seen as a sign of great respect to offer her guests bread that was still warm and uncut.
Soda bread first appeared in the 19th century, when baking soda was introduced as a leavening agent. Combined with flour and buttermilk, as well as salt, it's very easy to make. Served, still warm from the oven with, as the Irish say, "lashings of butter", the aroma and taste are unique to Ireland and it's become the established favorite with tourists and locals alike. As for the cross that usually appears on the top, you may be surprised to learn that it isn't a religious symbol at all. In the old days, it was simply a practical method of dividing the baked bread into four quarters; for large appetites, one quarter might be served as a single portion.
I've seen and tasted dozens of variations for soda bread, including one in which raisins are added to a white flour mixture. The end result is sometimes called "spotted dog" (not the same as the suet pudding I remember as a child). By far and away, my favorite is the following, which my friend, Jane FitzGerald, graciously allowed me to share with you. It's so good that it has won first place and other awards in several of the baking contests held during Cincinnati Irish Dancing competitions.
Irish Soda Bread
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar (for dough)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins (can sub currants or you can omit them all together)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons sugar for glaze
2 tablespoons very hot water
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt into a bowl. Add raisins, then buttermilk and mix until blended. The dough will be very sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 10 times. Shape into an 8 inch round loaf. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Cut a cross on top with a sharp knife. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven. Dissolve the 2 tablespoons of sugar in the 2 tablespoons of very hot water to make a glaze. Brush the glaze over the loaf and return it to the oven for 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a towel while the loaf cools. This will ensure a chewy crust.