Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The tale of two Irish Soda Breads...

Our friends invited us over to their house Tuesday night for a traditional Irish dinner. I don't think I had ever had Irish food. Irish Drink: Guinness, Harp, Cider, Bailey's, Jameson. Yes. Irish Food? Not sure. Well, I've had potatoes, but does that really count?

With such a fun invite, I thought I should bring something Irish to share. So... I started thinking. I needed something quick and universal. Irish Soda Bread was the first thing that popped into my mind, and while I've never had it nor have I tasted it, I went with it. Lesson learned: Irish soda bread is very fast and very easy!!

I searched for recipes online and found two types: sweet and savory. I didn't have time to make a decision, so I just went with both and ran to the grocery store to pick up ingredients. Fast forward an hour, the bread was done and we were on our way to the party.

We had a great time! Our hosts had prepared corned beef, cabbage, mushrooms, green mashed potatoes (mashed w/ leeks, spinach for the green color), leek gravy. The beverage of choice for the evening: Guinness. The food was terrific and such a fun idea!! A dinner party on a weeknight = FUN!! People seemed to dig the bread too, so that was good. I hope this becomes an annual event...

On to the recipes -
Sweet: Irish Soda Bread
Source: The Kitchn
3 c. flour (I used whole wheat flour)
1 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3 T. caraway seeds
1 box (15 oz.) golden raisins (I only bought one box, so this was decreased to 1 cup)
3/4 c. canola oil (or vegetable oil)
1 2/3 c. buttermilk
1 large egg
2 T. butter, melted
Coarse or raw sugar for sprinkling over top

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan or skillet that is at least 2 1/2 inches deep.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and caraway seeds.
4. Stir in the raisins until they are well-coated with the flour mixture.
5. Add the oil to the flour mixture and stir until it is well incorporated.
6. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg.
7. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Your batter should be quite wet.
8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan.
9. Using a sharp knife, cut a deep x in the batter. Then drizzle the melted butter over the top (using a pastry brush, if necessary, to distribute it evenly—it might pool up a little, but it will form a nice crust in the oven).
10. Sprinkle generously with coarse sugar (I used ~1 T.)
11. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown and completely set. Let cool for ten minutes or so before turning it out of the pan. Delicious while warm!*
Makes one 9-inch round loaf (Mine made more; I recommend you fill the 9" pan 3/4 full and then put the extra batter into cupcake tins)
Notes: This bread didn't rise as much as the savory version, you can tell with the aerial and side view photos. It may have been too wet of a batter or how full the pan was. While everyone thought the savory version was good, the resounding response was that this one was better. I also heard it compared to cake.

*The sweet version is on the left and shows how it kind of cooked over the pan. I found myself opening the oven door, fork in hand, and eating the bread right from the oven. Delicious while warm might be an understatement...

Savory: Irish Soda Bread
Source: Simply Recipes
4 to 4 1/2 c. flour (I used 4 c. whole wheat flour)
2 T. sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup raisins
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
I added 3T. caraway seeds to the batter

1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Sift together 4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
3. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, work butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal, then stir in raisins.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add beaten egg and buttermilk to well and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir.
5. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. If the dough is too sticky to work with, add in some more flour. Do not over knead! Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf.
6. Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet or a baking sheet. Using a serrated knife, score top of dough about 1/2'' deep in an "X" shape.
7. Transfer to oven and bake until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife, about 35-45 minutes. (If you use a cast iron pan, it may take a little longer as it takes longer for the pan to heat up than a baking sheet.)
8. Check for doneness also by inserting a long, thin skewer into the center. If it comes out clean, it's done. Transfer bread to a rack to let cool briefly. Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted.
Makes 1 loaf
Notes: This dough was a lot drier in consistency versus the sweet version, but it kept the shape and rose better. It also seemed more dense , but not in a bad way. It could have been the difference in sweetness, but I thought it was more bread vs. cake like.

Aerial vs Side view of the Finished products
(L to R, Sweet then Savory)

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