Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
Homemade Irish Soda Bread is as much a part of Irish culture as the love of a cup of tea or a pint of Guinness. A doorstop of home-made soda bread slathered with butter and jam and wrapped in waxed paper was what the O'Donnells had to trade in the lunch room in school. We didn't trade lunches with the other children, but some of the teachers made life very pleasant indeed, offering rare treats in exchange for our mother's scone. Offered to some of the crustiest and otherwise dangerous of our dear Sisters of Mercy, our mother's bread brought could work some kind of magic. That delicious Irish Soda Bread that my mother baked every single day, sometimes twice a day, the true staple of the Irish diet.
Irish Soda Bread
Preheat oven to 375 F
4 cups flour (unsifted)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup raisins
1 cup buttermilk (or milk with one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice)
4 tbsp butter softened (plus any butter needed to grease the pan for baking)
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers; add in the raisins.
Beat the egg into the liquid.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the liquids. Stir until well blended. As the dough starts to stick together, add small amounts of flour to the bowl and work the dough around the bowl with your hands, kneading lightly and collecting the bits of dough sticking to the inside of the bowl. Done lightly and with small amounts of flour, there will be no excess dough left in the bowl and the dough will be just the right consistency.
A well-seasoned iron frying pan is generally used to bake Irish Soda Bread, but it can be shaped and baked on a greased cookie sheet. A 9 x5 rectangular loaf pan works well also, and may even be preferable to the traditional round loaf that was cut by quarters.
Shape the dough ball into a round loaf in the pan or on the cookie sheet or place it in the loaf pan. Cut a deep cross into the round loaf, and separate the quarters. This cut will partially close as the bread rises during baking, and while it is always said that it reminds us of the crucifix, it also ensures that the inside of the loaf will be properly baked. For the loaf pan dough, cut a deep slice down the center of the loaf to ensure thorough cooking and to give the loaf a nicely shaped top.
Bake the scone in preheated oven for about 50 minutes.
The scone is done when the top is golden and it sounds hollow when thumped. A knife inserted into the center should come out dry and clean.
Let the scone cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Wrapping the loaf in a clean tea towel will give a soft crust; letting the scone cool without covering will make a little crisper crust.
Serve (when cooled!) with butter and jam (Gooseberry, black currant, and marmalade are favorites.) and a nice pot of hot tea, milk, and sugar.
This is a great treat any day of the week, but most people only get to taste it on St. Patrick's Day. In Ireland, it's a staple food, and a cherished memory for so many who grew up eating it.
Super Irish Breakfast