St. Patrick’s day and the corner bakeries are selling the Irish Soda breads again. I remember the first time I made soda bread – around 15 years back. Yeast breads were very intimidating then, and these breads were such a morale booster! No worries about kneading and resting an all that, just mix everything and bake.
Even though the stores here call it Irish Soda Bread it is really not the everyday bread, but the sweetened cousin Spotted Dog. It is a little tender and sweeter than your everyday bread, but still very rustic not to mention delicious. I think the name refers to the specks of dried fruit in the bread. I am sure you can make it in the dutch oven on the stove top if needed – should try it over the campfire once.
When the protein content in the flour is low not enough gluten can be created for the soft yeast bread structure. Such flours create dense yeast breads, but on the other hand these make good cookies and cakes. In other words leavening with baking soda is the way to go.
The other point in favors of these breads is that they require much less time and effort. There is no kneading to develop gluten – in fact you should knead it as little as possible. There is no waiting for the dough to rise multiple times or the stretch and folds to align the gluten strands properly.
Before I forget here is one more thing going for these breads – you could even start with cold ingredients. Imagine that – eggs and buttermilk right out of the fridge and in the time it takes for the oven to heat up you have the bread ready to go in ! Making bread under 1 hour is something indeed !
Initially I used to follow my the cake baking instincts and coat the raisins in flour and add to the mix – now I just dump everything into the sifted flour mix. Sifting is not something you want to ignore though – especially since a bare minimum of kneading is used to make the dough. Sift flour, salt and baking soda together and stir well to mix.
After that it is free for all – mix everything in , shape and bake :-).
If you have wide enough bowl pat the dough into a disc int he bowl itself and invert on to the baking sheet. Other wise tip the mixed dough onto a floured surface and gently form into a a disc about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Transfer to the baking sheet.
I am sure there are bakers who can make this dough without getting their fingers sticky. As for me I mix the flour and liquids using a spatula and once the it is almost wet get in there with my fingers to bring all the pieces together and shape. So yes – my fingers do get a little sticky.
These breads are baked on higher temperatures than the standard bread loaf. The cooking time changes depending on the thickness of the bread as well. I prefer to keep the shaped dough at around 1 1/2 inch thickness . These usually get cooked in 30 minutes. Thicker breads need longer cooking time and might need to cook longer at lower temperatures to get the center cooked properly.
- 450 g All Purpose Flour 4 - 4 1/2 C
- 1 1/4 Tsp Baking Soda
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 2 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 Egg
- 1 C Butter Milk
- 3/4 C Water As Needed
- 1 Tsp Caraway Seeds Optional
- 3/4 C Raisins/currants
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
- In a large mixing bowl sift together the flour, baking soda and salt . Sift 2 more times to aerate the flour really well. Add the sugar and stir to uniformly combine. Gently rub the caraway seeds in the palm of your hands and add to the flour mix. Add the fruit to the flour and use a spatula in circular motion to mix uniformly .
- Break the egg into a small bowl and beat 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 liquids .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. Flour the work surface and turn the shaggy 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
- Use just enough water to just moisten all the flour.
- Here is a tip to give it a nice sheen – Mix an egg with 1 Tbsp water and brush on top of the loaf right before baking.
- Work the dough quickly . Keep the kneading and mixing to minimum.
- Use chopped jumbo raisins or cranberries for a burst of color .
- These can be sliced and toasted for 15 to 20 minutes in a 200°F(90°C) oven to make crunchy toasts (fruity rusk). Serve these with coffee or tea.
Here is another quick bread you might like
For more quick bread recipes click here
This post was originally published on March 2016.