Ever wonder about a mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.


[Photos: Lucy Baker]

Irish soda bread comes in many varieties. It can be sprinkled with caraway seeds or studded with raisins or currants. The hallmark of a good loaf is a crunchy, crumbly crust and a moist, tender interior. Slightly sweet with a hint of buttermilk tang, Irish soda bread bears a strong resemblance to the British scone. It's dead simple to bake from scratch, but in case you're short on time this St. Patrick's Day, I tested out Sticky Fingers Bakeries Irish Soda Bread Mix ($5.99).

Irish soda bread is usually baked either in a cast iron skillet or in a freeform round loaf on a baking sheet. The signature crisscross cut into the top allows the bread to expand. In a break from tradition, the Sticky Fingers mix is baked in a standard 9x5-inch loaf pan, with no cut through the top. I was curious to see how this would affect the texture of the soda bread. Would it retain its sandy crumb? Or would it come out denser, like banana bread or pound cake?

20110312-140466-mixed-review-irish-soda-bread-3.jpgAs straightforward as soda bread recipes are, this mix was even easier--bordering on effortless. All I had to do was combine the mix with one cup of water and spoon it into a greased and floured loaf pan. After 40 minutes in the oven, my soda bread had a deep golden crust and an intoxicating sweet oaty scent that filled my kitchen.

What I liked best about the Sticky Fingers soda bread was the flavor. It tasted fresh and natural, and struck a nice balance between tangy and sugary. The raisins were plump, juicy, and abundant, and the caraway seeds added a subtle hint of licorice that stopped short of full-on rye bread flavor. What I didn't love quite so much was the soda bread's texture. There was nothing wrong with it--to the contrary, it was consistent and downy, and cut into perfect slices. But it didn't have that crumbly, dry-yet-tender, scone-like texture of true Irish soda bread. It tasted more like a loaf cake, albeit a delicious one.

In the end, I would recommend this mix if you are looking for a quick fix, or a unique loaf cake to compliment a non-traditional St. Patrick's Day meal. If authenticity is your goal, stick to from-scratch versions.

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