Around St. Patrick’s Day you’ll see recipes for green cocktails, brightly colored green frosting atop desserts, and perhaps some individuals milling about who really embrace the occasion and don all manner of green garb. How about embracing some comforting, yet quick-and-easy classic Irish fare?
Get your day off to a great start with quick, tasty and nutritious bread. Irish soda bread is a classic quick bread that uses baking soda as the leavener (thus the name), so it is easy to make since there is no yeast and time involved while the dough rises. It’s usually made with buttermilk, currants and caraway seed.
There are as many soda bread recipes as there are Irish bakers. After making many recipes over the years, baker and cookbook author Beth Hensperger was thrilled to find this recipe from her great-aunt Anna, which she contributed to Real Food. It is the best ever, she notes, especially with the addition of dried cherries, and makes great toast that is delightfully crunchy and tastes remarkably like an English muffin.
Before baking, a cross is traditionally slashed in the top of the bread loaf. Legend has it that this is to ward off the devil and protect the household. I suppose it can’t hurt—plus it adds dimension to the loaf.
Breakfast Irish Soda Bread with Dried Cherries and Golden Raisins
Makes 2 round loaves
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 to 11⁄4 cups cold buttermilk
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
11⁄2 cups combination golden raisins and tart dried cherries
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add butter and cut in with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until soft crumbs are formed. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add buttermilk, 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk. Stir just to moisten, then add dried fruit.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead very gently, sprinkling with flour as needed to prevent sticking, until dough just comes together and makes a smooth surface, 5 to 10 times only. Divide dough into 2 equal portions with a knife and shape each into a round; dust tops with a little flour.
Place dough rounds on the parchment-lined baking sheet and place another pan of the same size underneath to prevent burning. With a sharp knife, slash tops with a large X about 1⁄2-inch deep. Bake in middle of oven until dark brown and crusty, 35 to 40 minutes. (When done, a cake tester inserted into center of X will come out clean and loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the side.) Serve warm or at room temperature. Store wrapped in plastic at room temperature or freeze in a plastic freezer bag up to 2 months.