Monday, April 27, 2015

Perfect Irish Soda Bread

I know that I'm really late for Saint Patrick's Day, but this loaf of bread is a treat that should be made more than once a year anyway! I found this recipe in an article I read while waiting for a work meeting to begin about six years ago - before I had my children! I copied the accompanying recipe down and made it for Saint Patrick's Day as a treat for my co-workers. We loved it so much - and so does everyone who eats it - that we have been making it ever since! It's something that Paul and I look forward to snacking on together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night snack, etc.

This is not a true "soda bread" because it is more cakey and sweet than most traditional Irish recipes. That's probably why, in my opinion, it is the best version of soda bread you're going to find. Paul and I have always "enhanced" the recipe by soaking the currants and caraway seeds in Irish Whiskey overnight to incorporate just a mild amount of that luxurious flavor throughout the loaf. Of course, this step is optional - but it's so good. Also, the caraway seeds may seem like a weird, savory component to be putting in a sweet bread, but their flavor compliments the currants very, very well so I would recommend trying the recipe with them first. If you're hesitant about the amount of caraway in the recipe, feel free to cut back on them by 50% or so. I always added less caraway the first couple times I made this recipe because it scared me, but now I am obsessed with caraway and add the full amount.

Also, be sure not to overbake this loaf. It is huge, gigantic, and takes a while to bake. However, it goes from being "just underdone" to "overdone" in a manner of minutes so be sure to keep an eye on it towards the end. You want the interior of the bread to be very moist and not at all dry.

Irish Soda Bread with Currants and Caraway
from an article seen in the New York Times 2009

Optional: Place the caraway seeds and currants in a small bowl and pour over about 3-4 tablespoons of good Irish whiskey. Allow the mixture to sit, covered, at room temperature overnight, tossing occasionally. When ready to use, just fold into the recipes as instructed.

5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated. The dough will be very, very sticky.

Transfer dough to prepared skillet. Smooth the top, mounding slightly in center. Using a small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut a 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake bread for about 65-70 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking at the 1 hour mark and if the bread is over-browning, cover the top lightly with foil. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. Leftovers may be stored, wrapped very tightly in plastic, at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for one month.

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