It’s a good thing that this recipe makes two loaves of bread because I was tempted to finish one loaf all by myself! This might sound bad but this post surprised us by how amazingly good it was. With most of our posts we have a pretty good idea of what we’re making and how it’s going to taste. With this recipe we didn’t know what to expect because neither of us had tasted Irish Soda bread before. I was skeptical that the bread would be nice and ‘bread-like’ since it requires no yeast, no kneading, and no time to rise. WOW…this bread has a light but hearty consistency with a nice firm crust. The addition of sweet raisins balances the earthy, slightly bitter caraway for a flavor that is complex and intriguing.
I was surprised to learn that the tradition of Irish Soda bread only dates back to the 1840’s when baking soda was introduced in Ireland. At that time, baking was done in the home and, in addition to having limited supplies, time was often limited as well. The use of baking soda as a leavening agent was quick, effective and it produced a much more consistent result than yeast. It caught on quickly and made soda breads a staple of the Irish diet until commercial bread production began in earnest.
The original soda breads contained nothing more than flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. The buttermilk was leftover from the butter making process and the bread was almost always served with freshly churned butter. Today, the breads (like the one we made!) often contain additional ingredients, like sugar, butter, raisins or caraway seeds to enhance the flavor of the bread. We paired our bread with two Irish cheeses…an aged sharp white cheddar and an Irish Porter cheddar. The white cheddar was an especially successful pairing because of how the sharpness of the cheese interacted with the raisins and caraway…so good! Stop buying Irish Soda breads and make some right now!
This wine was perfect with the bread and cheese! It was juicy and rich with blackberry and cherry flavors that complemented the sweet raisins and balanced the savory notes of the caraway and cheddar. Taking a bite of bread and cheese and then taking a sip of the wine was like a flavor explosion and I’m pretty sure Nathan started getting tired of me saying how delicious this pairing was! I’m glad we liked the wine pairing better than we liked the beer pairing!
I just can’t get on board with stouts! I know I’ve mentioned this before and that I am probably in the minority here but something about the light body, roasted and biscuit flavors, and creamy light carbonation just doesn’t do it for me… This stout didn’t even particularly pair well with the Irish soda bread and cheese as the strong flavors from both the bread and cheese completely overpowered any flavors from the beer and it tasted like I was drinking water. I would rate this beer lower but from what I can tell from my quick research online this is a pretty respectable stout and I know my own prejudice is getting in the way.
Irish Soda Bread
5 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
1 cup raisins
1 ½ tablespoons caraway seeds
2 ½ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Generously butter two small heavy ovenproof skillets with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. The bread will spread out when you bake it so a smaller skillet is better!
3. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.
4. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).
5. Cut dough in half and transfer the dough balls to prepared skillets; smooth tops, mounding slightly in center. Using a sharp knife dipped into flour, cut an X in top center of dough.
6. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.)