Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Soda Bread

One of my favourite spring memories is soda bread.

Every year, my mom made Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. Again, Mom is not Irish. Not a drop of Irish - or any Island Mutt - blood in her. But man can she make a St. Patrick's Day feast. I always looked forward to coming home from school to the delicious smells of our kitchen, but certain days were always better than others - and coming home to the scent of freshly baked soda bread, heavy with raisins and caraway? That was the BEST.

I don't have mom's soda bread recipe, which is a lapse that sorely needs to be corrected. So every year, I try to ninja up a version that comes close to replicating the delicious smell of the kitchen of my youth on March 17. This year, I think I came pretty close. The crumb isn't as dense and fine as Mom's, and the bread isn't quite as sweet, but it's a pretty darn good, flavourful, crumbly soda bread, and it was easy as pie to make.

Irish Soda Bread
Serves 4 or so

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup beer (I used more of the Mysterious 40 from the New England Boiled Dinner)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups AP flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar


1. Dump the raisins in a bowl or cup and cover with the beer. Let soak overnight. If you don't have time for that, 30 minutes will do, but overnight is much better.
2. Heat the oven to 375F
3. Add the vinegar to the milk and stir vigorously. Let it sit while you continue on.
4. Mix together the dry ingredients except for the caraway in a large bowl. Cut in the butter (this is easiest if you cut up the butter into chunks first) with either a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers. You're done cutting in the butter when the mixture looks like large crumbs.
5. Drain the raisins. Stir the drained raisins, the caraway seeds, and the milk and vinegar mixture (this will look awful and curdled most of the time. Don't worry about it) into the dry ingredients just until everything comes together into a sticky dough.
6. Shape the dough into a round loaf and place on a greased (or parchment-lined. Or silicone-lined) sheet pan. Slash the top of the dough in an X pattern.
7. Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean and the bread is golden. Cool for 30 minutes before slicing in - if you can resist the delicious smell that long.

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