For several years, Mr. Farmer has been baking bread for the various covered dish dinners that we attend. It started with a Thanksgiving-themed meal, for which he baked white bread. The following Thanksgiving he was asked to bring bread again. When the following dinner was a St. Patty's-themed corned beef and cabbage dinner (with all the fixin's brought by the attendees), he decided to bake something appropriate for the occasion: Irish Soda Bread. It has always been a hit and a source of controversy. The weekend nearest to St. Patrick's Day always falls during Lent, so the annual argument over whether or not Soda Bread is "sweets" is inevitable. I'm not Catholic, but if I was, I would argue that this quick bread is more of a biscuit than a cake, and therefore is no stumbling block to those who are foregoing sweets for Lent.
**Part One: The Buttermilk Hunt**
The search for a store that carries buttermilk is becoming part of the tradition. The recipe calls for it, but it just isn't something that is common in this area. Fortunately, we found out 2 years ago that one local chain (whose headquarters is in Amish Country) carries their own house brand of buttermilk. Up until a month ago, there were 3 stores of that chain within convenient driving distance, and only one of them carries the precious stuff. This year I made the foolhardy assumption that the largest store in the area would have the best selection. But, alas, while they carried no less than a half-dozen varieties of soy milk (including chocolate!) and lactose-reduced milk, there was no buttermilk to be found. So I made a special trip to that one and only store to get it, and I was not disappointed (except about the fact that I had to go out of my way for it).
***Part Two: The Baking***
Baking anything for a covered dish is an experience. The entire kitchen must be perfectly clean before we can begin. After all, it takes a lot of space (which we do not have) to work on a project that is going to require nearly every dish and utensil in the house and also cover every surface with flour. The previous statement may be an exaggeration, but boy does it feel that way! Most family members must assist in some way. Whether it is by cleaning up dishes, wiping counters, or mopping the floor ahead of time, fetching or combining ingredients during the process, or laying out towels for cooling and wrapping and transporting the finished product, we all have our duties. In the end, we hold our warm loaves close, like treasured secrets, as we rush to the covered dish dinner... inevitably at the very last minute.
****Part Three: The Recipe****
3 cups flour
1/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter (1/4 cup)
1 cup raisins (or currants, or both - we use both)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
In a large bowl, combine first 5 ingredients and mix well.
Add butter and mix until butter disappears into dry ingredients.
Stir in raisins and currants.
In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Mix into dry ingredients.
Turn dough onto a floured work table and turn into itself several time, then shape into a round loaf. Place loaf on baking pan and cut a cross in the top.
NOTE: Loaf will increase in size by about a 3rd. Keep this in mind when choosing a pan.
Bake 15 minutes at 400 then reduce heat to 350 and cook 15 to 20 minutes more. It is cooked when very brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
|Irish Soda Bread, as baked by Mr. Farmer on 3/12/2011|