An amalgam of seven different European ethnicities, my siblings and I grew up without a real culinary heritage. If anything, Ma usually made dishes from outside our own hotpot of cultures: goulash, spaghetti and meatballs, etc. The one exception was Irish soda bread.
I like to think she picked it up from her own grandmother, who emigrated to Brooklyn in the early part of the twentieth century. Probably, Ma just found it in a cookbook. Either way, it was tasty—packed with raisins and sweetened with sugar—and at age 12, I wasn't one to question authenticity.
This Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread comes from Eating Well. It's similar to Ma's texturally, in that it's a little dry with a hard crust and soft center. However, it's also hardier and more of a quick brown bread than a dessert. Pairing it with cheddar and/or soup would be sublime, though jam, honey, or butter wouldn't be out of place, either.
To know: the dough comes together in about ten minutes, and requires no real experience with baking. It's about as idiot-proof as bread gets. I should know, as I am that idiot.
Ultimately, it's a bread for everybody, whether you're 100% Irish or only kind of Irish on your mom's side. Served with a pint of Guinness, no one will care anyway.
- Yield:12 to 16
- 2 cups unsifted whole-wheat flour
- 2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/4 cups light buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F. Dust a clean surface with flour. Spray a baking sheet with Pam and dust with flour. (Note: Aim for the center when you do this, or you'll be scrubbing burnt, floured Pam off your bakeware.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together. Make a well in the middle. Pour in about 2/3 cup of the buttermilk. With one hand, stir it into the dough in a circular motion. Add another 2/3 cup of the buttermilk. Stir again with your hand, until flour is incorporated. Repeat until buttermilk is gone, and you have a big ol' lump of dough, which should be, "soft, but not too wet and sticky."
Turn dough out on to your floured surface. Clean your hands, dry them thoroughly, and dust them with flour. Lightly knead dough a few times, until it's a rounded loaf-like shape. Pat it down into a round, 2"-thick disc. Transfer to baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut a deep X across the bread. Prick each area a few times with the knife.
Bake 20 minutes on 450°F. Drop the heat to 400°F and bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes. Bread should appear finished and sound hollow when you knock on it. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack until you're ready to dig in.