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irish soda bread
a modern take on a traditional recipe
by Dana Currier
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I've never been a fan of traditional Irish food. On St. Patrick's Day, my mom used to make corned beef and cabbage with boiled potatoes. She and my father would relish the steaming meat and the colorless vegetables. I would turn up my nose. Nor have I ever been much of a bread baker. There are few things in the world better than freshly baked bread, but almost all of my attempts at yeast breads have yielded tough, dense, and wholly unsatisfying results. Irish soda bread, however, is one bit of Irish fare I genuinely like and one kind of bread I have genuine success in making.

Irish soda bread is easy to make because it's a quick bread: no rising time, no water at precisely 77 degrees Fahrenheit, no yeast at all required. What makes Irish soda bread rise is the soda.

Many soda bread purists out there are proud of the ingenuity of the Irish in their use of baking soda as a leavening agent. You'll find that these people classify true Irish soda bread as nothing more than flour, salt, baking soda, and "sour milk." The rich ingredients that we extravagant, modern day bakers have added to the recipe would make those salt-of-the-earth Irish cooks who first made soda bread in the 1800's roll over in their graves.

Frankly, I try not to take my Irish soda bread quite so seriously. It's a great bread to throw together when you feel like taking a fresh loaf out of the oven in less than an hour. Plus it lets you get into the spirit of St. Patrick's Day without having to endure a hunk of sinewy boiled beef and a water-logged potato.

Even though I don't mind the idea of others turning Irish soda bread into cakey concoctions with butter, eggs, and sour cream, I myself prefer a less complicated version. Aside from the flour and salt, the baking soda and the buttermilk (the combination of which produces carbon dioxide gas and causes the bread to rise), I find it necessary to include raisins and caraway seeds. I think I could munch on either ingredient on its own by the fistful. The former I have, and the latter… well, yeah, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.

The other ways in which I stray from the sacred recipe of the humble nineteenth century Irish is in the addition of a little sugar and whole wheat flour. I like a combination of white flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat bran. Given the choice, I always pick heartier breads like whole wheat and rye over your standard Wonder Bread variety. But if your tastes veer toward the more traditional, simply use all white flour.

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