Thursday, March 4, 2010

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is awesome, and it's that time of year when the supermarket starts stocking it and the recipes are in every food magazine and Website. So I'm joining the crowd. It's hard to believe that up until past week, I've never made it. According to Irish chef Rory O'Connell (in Bon Appetite's online article), both the white and the brown Irish soda breads are traditional, and butter was not an original ingredient. The recipe I read about was made with 50% wheat flour and had butter, but not too much, and that's nice compromise in my mind.

The recipe came to my attention in the doctor's office. That seems to be when I get inspired to cook - looking at the recipes while I wait for my appointment (just seeing how my wrist is doing). This time, I brought along the latest issue of Bon Appetite. There was a fabulous article about Andrew McCarthy's (the actor) search for the Irish soda bread of his youth. It was a great read and the recipe was a tempting one for me. Though I had every intention of disgracing Andrew McCarthy's concept of what Irish soda bread is by adding nuts and currants.

The results were mixed. Things I did like were the oat flour and walnuts.

But there were issues with the dough being too dry, my overworking it, and the difficulty cooking it through without burning on the outside (I scrapped the worst parts of the piece in the picture).
Based on the issues with the first loaf, I also made some changes which worked out well. I was pleased with the loaves when I took them out of the oven.

The flour mixture was 2 1/2 cups of white, 2 1/2 cups wheat, and 1 cup oat. If I were to make the recipe a third time, I would make change it to 2 1/2 cups white, 2 cups oat, and 1 1/2 cups wheat. If I don't become completely sick of Irish soda bread, I see a third batch in my future!

Irish Soda Bread
Inspired by Bon Appetit

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
(note: I also enjoyed 3 cups white flour and 3 cups oat flour)
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled margarine or butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cups buttermilk + 1/4 cup reserved to the side in case the dough is too dry

2/3 cup currants

1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder in medium bowl to blend. Add the butter and cut it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (aka dough blender). It will be ready when the bits of butter are the size of peas.

Add the buttermilk and stir until the ingredients are just blended. There will be clumps at this stage. But if you notice that there is no way that the dry ingredients are going to be able to become one with the dough, you should immediately add more buttermilk.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until the dough comes together, about 10 turns. Be careful not to overwork the dough!!! If you kneed it too much, the bread will be tough.

Shape the dough into two 6" rounds and cut large "x", 1/3 inch deep, in the top of the dough.

I read that cutting the "x" on the top serves several purposes. For the bread, the cut helps the bread cook because it is at the thickest part of the bread. For the people of Ireland, it signifies the cross, and is a way that the bread is blessed. It also is a symbol for breaking the bread - which is easier to do once the bread is baked.

Place dough on prepared (oil-sprayed) baking sheet. Mine baked for 42 minutes, but I suggest checking the dough's progress at 35. I did the toothpick test, but with a wooden skewer. Poke it into the thickest part of the bread, and you'll know it's done by a lack of resistance when you pull it out, and when you look at it, it's clean (there's no dough on the toothpick/skewer).

Let it cool completely before cutting it.

My favorite way to eat it is toasted, with butter and honey.