Spotted dog is a lightly sweetened soda bread. Soda breads are made using baking soda as leavening. It is easy to make and takes about an hour from start to finish.
St. Patrick’s day is almost here and the corner bakeries are stocking up on Irish Soda bread again. I remember the first time I made soda bread – lets just say a while back 😉. Yeast breads were very intimidating then, and soda bread was such a morale booster! No worries about kneading, gluten formation and proofing the right amounts etc., just mix everything and bake.
What is Irish Soda Bread?
Soda breads are made in many places around the world, not just Ireland. It refers to a class of breads that are made with flour, baking soda, and an acidic liquid like buttermilk. The acids reacts with the base – sodium bi carbonate of the baking soda – releasing CO2. The CO2 makes the bread rise as it cooks.
Traditionally the wheat in Ireland is soft wheat, which has lower protein content. Kneading these flour with not create enough gluten for the soft yeast bread structure. The resulting yeast breads may be dense, but cookies and cakes turn out great.
Why Should One Make Soda Bread?
There are many reasons to make breads, connection to culture and belly being the most important. This a bread that is very easy to make and very beginner friendly. It needs very little
- Time: Mixing the dough take less time than the oven pre-heating time.
- Effort : No kneading – just mix everything together well
- Experience: No need to watch out for signs of proofing, gluten development etc.
- Knowledge of flour types
Spotted dog is often sold in the stores here as Irish Soda Bread. It is a traditional Irish Bread, but not the everyday bread. This is sweetened version with caraway seeds and dried fruit. It is a more tender and sweeter, but still very much rustic. I think the name refers to the specks of dried fruit in the bread.
You can make it in a Dutch oven on the stove top if needed or in a cast iron pot over open fire (maybe the next camping?).
Ingredients for Spotted Dog
This recipe calls for the basic soda bread ingredients – flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk – along with caraway seeds, raisins or currants, some sugar, and optionally an egg.
Regular white flour (All Purpose) works great in this recipe, you can make it with lower protein versions or even cake flour. The same applies to whole wheat flour. Depending on the substitutions you may need to add a bit more buttermilk or water.
Caraway seeds, sugar, and dried fruit
These are the sweeteners in this bread. you can substitute other dried fruit, leave out caraway seeds if you don’t like them, and use a sugar substitute. But barring any dietary restrictions I would encourage you to give this traditional combination a try.
Buttermilk and baking soda
Buttermilk is acidic, once it is neutralized the sweet dairy flavors are left behind. Baking soda achieves this, but if there is too much baking soda then the flavors go bad. The only way I can describe it is ash like or soapy.
More buttermilk is always preferable to more baking soda.
Adding egg is entirely optional and I do not add it most of the time. That said egg gives it a better texture and a coat of egg-wash on the loaf just before you put the bread in the oven gives it a more shiny, smooth look.
Making Soda Bread
The soda bread comes together in under an hour. Usually the time it takes the oven to preheat is more than enough. Additionally one can start with cold ingredients, like buttermilk and egg straight out of the fried. So one always start with preheating the oven. Set it to rather higher temperatures like 425°F.
Make the Dough
Mix all the dry ingredients, except the fruit, well. Do not ignore this step especially as a bare minimum of handling is used to make the dough. Initially, I used to follow my cake baking instincts and coat the raisins/currants in flour and add to the mix – now I just dump it and stir.
Soda bread dough should be wet. The higher water content makes it easy to mix the dough in a large bowl with a spatula. To the flour mix add the beaten egg (if using) and buttermilk and stir well with the spatula. It takes a lot of elbow grease to overmix with a spatula. That is the reason why I recommend not using the stand mixer.
The dough is moister than regular bread dough – in bread geek-speak it is about 100% hydration when using all buttermilk. So add the recommended amount of buttermilk in the recipe to react with the baking soda. Then and add more water or buttermilk and keep mixing until the dough forms into a sticky mass. Once it has almost come together add the raisins and stir a few times to distribute it evenly.
Shape and Bake
Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and shape it into a disc. Transfer to the baking pan, and score the top. Soda bread bakes at higher temperatures than the standard bread loaf. The cooking time changes depending on the thickness of the bread. I prefer to keep the shaped dough at around 1 1/2 inch thickness. These usually cook in 30 minutes.
Thicker bread will need longer cooking time. The leavening reaction starts as soon as buttermilk and baking soda come into contact. So it is better to keep it not too thick so the center cooks properly . So do not make a 4-inch thick disc.
A Few Tips To Make The Best Soda Breads
- The dough should be wet and sticky
- Bake as soon as possible
- Work the dough quickly. Keep the kneading and mixing to a minimum.
- More buttermilk is better than more soda
- Mix an egg with 1 Tbsp water and brush on top of the loaf right before baking for a shiny smooth crust
- Use chopped jumbo raisins or cranberries for a burst of color.
This bread tastes delicious when warm, say around 20-30 minutes after baking. Once cooled completely store in an airtight container and use within 2 to 3 days or cover tightly and freeze for up to 3 months.
Slice and toast the leftover bread for 15 to 20 minutes in a 200°F(90°C) oven to make crunchy toasts (fruity rusk). Serve these with coffee or tea
- 4 – 41/2 C All Purpose Flour 500g
- 1 1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
- 1 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
- 2 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 Egg (Optional)
- 1 C Buttermilk
- 3/4 C Water As Needed (Notes)
- 1 Tsp Caraway Seeds Optional
- 3/4 C Raisins/currants
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
- In a large mixing bowl mix the flour, baking soda, sugar,caraway seeds, and salt.
- Break the egg into a small bowl andbeat well. Add the butter milk to the egg mixture and stir.
- Make a well in the middle of the dry mix and slowly pour the buttermilk. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gently stir to combine the wet and dry ingredients with as few strokes as possible. Add the water as needed until almost all the flour is moist and the dough comes together in a big lump. Add the dried fruit and mix with spatula.
- Flour the work surface and turn the haggy dough out on it. Flatten the dough using your hands to a circular disc of about 11/2" thickness.
- Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mark an X on the top with a sharp knife. Transfer to the oven, reduce the temperature to 400°F (200°C)and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or till done .When done the tops will be lightly brown and the bottom will sound hollow when tapped Cool on the rack for few minutes.
- Serve warm or cold.
- Use unbleached flour
- You can use more butter milk instead of water
- Add enough water to make a sticky dough
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
The Cross On Top
They say it helps to get the Devil or was it the faeries, out. Do I really want these taken out? Perhaps not, but the cross does help the loaf spread out evenly. If you still think it is a bad idea use an X to mark the spot 😉 or better yet make a spiral or something symmetrical!
More Quick Breads
This post was originally published on March 2016.