I have no memories of my mother. I never knew my grandparents. My older father was as silent as a rock. All the history of my family was in the grave or locked in people who were silent or was locked inside kin I didn’t know. So it’s no wonder that in my adult years I yearned, clamored and even demanded to know my heritage. With the help of ancestry.com, a hired genealogist and scraps of clues the first ship from Ireland emerged from the mist.
Photos of the Emerald Isle and recipes in various cookbooks were my first contact with my origins, my homeland. In 1990 Jeff Smith’s cookbook, “The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors” was the first to introduce me to Irish Soda Bread.
Like a first kiss and a first child, Irish Soda Bread introduced me to the world of food as history and heritage.
Jeff Smith’s recipe has been followed and cherished in my family for 29 years now. My daughter now makes it for her family on St. Patrick’s Day which has become one of our family’s favorite holidays.
So, even though this article by Chowhound, “What Is Soda Bread And Is It Really Irish?” denounces that the origin of soda bread is actually Irish, it does state that the Irish have claimed it as their own! By virtue that there is a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread I think that even if history doesn’t prove it out, we can give Soda Bread to the Irish!
This is Jeff Smith’s Irish Soda Bread recipe that we’ve used every year. I’m putting it here because I think his cookbook is out of print, although, you can get it used pretty cheap on Amazon.
Jeff Smith’s Irish Soda Bread
Makes 2 Loaves
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Add all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well. Pour all of the buttermilk into the bowl at once and stir, using a wooden spoon, just until a soft dough is formed. Do not try to make it smooth at this point. Pour the contents of the bowl out onto a plastic counter and knead for a minute or so until everything comes together.
Divide the loaf into two portions and shape each into a round loaf, pressing the top down a bit to just barely flatten it. Place the loaves on a large ungreased baking sheet. (I like to use the nonstick kind.) Sprinkle some additional flour on the top of each loaf and, using a sharp paring knife, make the sign of the Cross in slashes on the top of each.
Allow the loaves to rest for 10 minutes and then bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and done to taste.
Cool on racks.
New Year, New Recipe!
Even though I am grateful for Jeff’s recipe that has kept me for years, I decided to take a chance and try the SPISB’s recipe that they have online. The recipe intrigued me in its simplicity. I liked that it had no sugar, too.
So, I made it! I mixed up the 4 ingredients and in the time it took the oven to preheat, I had it mixed and shaped.
(That little gadget is a dough scoring tool I bought. You can use a sharp knife, but I love gadgets, haha! You can buy one here. )
I deviated from the recipe in that it calls for you to cook the bread in a covered cake pan. I decided to use my cast iron dutch oven instead.
It worked amazingly well! It looks, smells and tastes delicious! The crust is delightfully crunchy and the center is moist and hearty! I slathered the hot bread with real butter and it was “slap-your-mama” good! I hate to say it but it’s better than Jeff’s! I can’t believe I said that!
(That beautiful end-grain cutting board was made by my woodworker friend, Pete, at PMG Woodworks in Georgia. Look him up on Facebook!)
I’ve included the link to the recipe but here’s the recipe straight from the SPISB’s site:
White Soda Bread (reminder: 4oz by weight is a dry “cup”)
- 4 cups (16 oz) of all-purpose flour.
- 1 Teaspoon baking soda
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 14 oz of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.
In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.
Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)
Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible (I think they mean like a dutch oven) pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.
Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.
I wonder if my Irish grandmother, Mano Kennedy, every made Soda Bread?
Erin Go Bragh!