Any leprechaun of note will tell you that the key to good soda bread is not to get yourself or the dough overworked in the process. Kind of like a giant biscuit, soda bread is easy and quick to make, but if not made properly it can be dry and tough, or undercooked in the middle. The line between a pleasant pastry fit for a smear of butter and jam and a leaden block of cooked flour fit for the garbage bin, can be a fine one.
Like any dough or batter, gluten, the protein in flour (activated by water) gives baked goods their structure. In the case of traditional bread, the gluten needs to be worked into long strands, via kneading, so that hot air can get in between those strands and puff it up. In the case of cakes, muffins, and “quick” breads it is important to mix the ingredients together, just until they are combined and holding together so things don’t get too tough inside.
Traditional Irish soda bread is made from only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and milk, for this recipe I added some baking powder, to really keep things light. Whisk together some flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Add in melted butter, caraway seeds, and some golden raisins. In a separate bowl combine some buttermilk and egg and combined JUST until incorporated—remember, don’t overwork things. Form into a round and make an “X” on top. Bake and you’ve got yourself a pot of gold waiting to come out of the oven.
Yield: One loaf
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes; active time: 30 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted
2 tablespoons caraway seeds, optional
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add butter, caraway (if using) and raisins; combine just until incorporated.
In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg; add to dough and mix just until incorporated. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it over onto itself 2 or 3 times, shaping it into a round, 8-inch loaf. Transfer loaf to a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Score an “X” on the top of the dough. Bake 45 minutes until well-browned and a toothpick plunged into the center emerges clean.
Remove to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Serve with butter and your favorite jam or preserves.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Both baking soda and baking powder are variations on sodium bicarbonate which produces carbon dioxide, which gives baked goods a bit of rise.
Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. And is a quick to cause bubbles when combined with moisture, especially when heated.
Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, as well as cream of tartar (an acidic) and cornstarch (which keeps things dry). Baking powder has a bit more staying power without as much acidity.
(Courtesy: Yankee Magazine)
Annie B. Copps is a senior editor at Yankee Magazine. Annie oversees the magazine's food coverage, both as an editor and as a contributor of feature stories and columns.
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