The rustic allure of an Irish-American soda bread recently tempted me into giving it a go. Wow! I am glad I did! This recipe quickly yields a flavorful, filling bread that looks as beautiful as it is tasty. It is brilliant at breakfast and it complements a hearty stew, pork joint, or bangers and mash nicely. Serve it warm with butter and apricot preserves or honey for a small slice of heaven. My wife, a culinary genius by her own right, calls it the best soda bread she has ever had.
Also known as quick bread, soda breads do not rely on the reproduction of yeasties to rise. With quick breads, baking soda reacts with acid in the dough to create carbon dioxide bubbles, causing the dough to rise quickly. No waiting!
Irish Soda Bread? A Cultural and Historical Note
The anthropologist in me must tell you that soda bread did not necessarily arise in Ireland as most Americans think. Although not entirely clear, it would appear that Americans, English, Irish, and Scots all developed versions of soda bread within a relatively short time of one another — about a generation or so in the mid 1800’s. An American, Amelia Simmons, appears to be among the early authors of soda bread recipes with hers appearing in American Cookery in 1796.
There is cause to consider that indigenous peoples throughout the world who practiced agriculture may have first discovered the chemical reaction that causes chemical leavening to occur. Wood ash is quite alkaline in nature, and of course, in abundance when cooking over a fire. When alkaline wood ash (potash) comes into contact with the moist acids in a typical dough, then carbon dioxide is released. A refined wood ash was developed in the mid 1700’s for use in industry (pearlash), and bakers eventually began to incorporate it into recipes. Although quite possible, it seems that the prevalence of wild yeasts seems a much more likely leavening agent among native agriculturalists.
Regardless of who was first, soda bread recipes flourished after baking soda was introduced to Ireland and England in the mid 1800’s. Occurring at roughly the same time as the Great Famine in Ireland, baking soda (known as bread soda in Ireland) enabled bread to be produced at home with the most basic ingredients during the most difficult times, and in an manner most suitable to the variety of wheat produced in the Irish climate (a version in which yeasts do not flourish).
Whether American, Irish, or Irish-American, soda bread is an easy, quick, and flavorful bread you must try. My recipe was inspired by my friend, and newb blogger, Becky at A Small Town Kitchen. Drop by her blog and check out her great recipes.
- 2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat flour
- 2 C All Purpose Flour
- 1 Cup Old Fashioned Oats
- 1/4 C + 1 T Brown Sugar
- 1 t. Baking Soda
- 1 t. Salt
- 1 1/2 Cup Milk
- 3 T Apple Cider Vinegar
- 6 Tablespoons Softened Butter, (unsalted)
- 2 Eggs
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Lightly grease a baking sheet.
- Stir together the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add eggs, milk, and vinegar (I reserve a small amount of milk to add later if dough is too dry). Stir just until ingredients are combined. Add a little flour if too wet (keep in mind that the dough should be wetter and stickier than yeast-leavened dough), or add the reserved milk if too dry.
- Turn out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead very minimally and form a ball.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet and cut a deep X into the top (cut — don’t compress the dough with a dull knife), then generously sprinkle with oats.
- Bake at 375° for 45-50 minutes. Check to make sure the dough is baked throughout. I use my meat thermometer as a probe — it should pull away cleanly. Experienced bakers can tell by the sound when thumped. It should sound hollow.
- Allow to cool on a rack. That is, if you can wait that long!
For a look at Irish cuisine (What? The Irish don’t eat corned beef and cabbage routinely?) with a slight sense of adventure and tinge of humor, visit Conor Bofin’s blog here).