I love making homemade bread. In fact, I spent a year baking all 104 recipes from James Beard’s classic Beard on Bread. I also love Ireland, which is where Mike and I went on our honeymoon. So when the opportunity to combine the two arose in the form of St. Paul’s Irish Fair Soda Bread Baking Contest, I had to through my hat in the ring. Although I made a rather disastrous loaf of Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread for the Brooks Bakes Bread project last year, I figured that I had plenty of time to perfect my technique. How hard could soda bread be, anyway?
The answer: a lot harder than it looks. First, I had to modify my recipe to fit the contest rules: the only ingredients allowed were the traditional flour, salt, baking soda, butter, and buttermilk/soured milk. (For more information on what Irish soda bread is—and isn’t—see the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website) After that came the honing of baking time and temperature to produce a loaf that was completely baked, yet was still easy to slice and break apart (crusts hard enough to bounce a knife off of need not apply). Finally came my biggest challenge: shaping the dough into a round loaf with the requisite cross.
Here are some of my early attempts:
I pored over recipes and blogs, trying to find the key to shaping the perfect loaf. After much more trial and error, I finally was able to make decent loaf of traditional whole-wheat Irish soda bread.
- 1 ½ cup whole-wheat flour
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine flours, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add buttermilk and mix just until a smooth, sticky dough is formed.
Thoroughly grease a baking sheet, and turn the dough out onto the baking sheet. Dust the top of the dough with flour. With floured hands, shape dough into a round flat loaf that is about 1 1/2 inches high and 5 inches in diameter.
Using a large, well-sharpened knife, cut a cross about 1 inch deep into the loaf.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until loaf is well-browned with a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. My experience with soda bread is that it is better to have a crusty, slightly over-done loaf than one that is still doughy in the center.
Irish soda bread is best enjoyed fresh. If you have any left over, it makes delicious croutons for use in soups or for snacking. Cut stale bread into cubes and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, or until croutons are crispy, checking every 10 minutes.
Enjoy your traditional Irish soda bread, and wish me luck next Saturday!