Written by Rachel Gaffney
When St Patricks Day approaches, the stores begin to stock their shelves with loaves of white soda bread speckled with raisins and caraway seeds. This is known as 'Irish Soda Bread' in the United States of America.
This well known bread simply isn't traditional Irish soda bread. It is indeed a delicious treat and like all other foods, this too evolved over time. Consider it's origins. We were a poor nation. This was an easy to make all-in-one mixture that was made with buttermilk. Buttermilk is a by product of butter. Wholemeal flour was more widely available. Baking Soda was added as a leavining agent.
The average Irish home in the 1800's did not have an oven so thay baked the bread in a pot known as a 'Bastible'. This pot was suspended over an open fire and baked.
Raisins were not added until much later as these were an imported luxury item.
There are various myths/reasons behind the sign of the cross. Some think it was done to "let the devil out". Others say it made it easier to divide and was a symbol for "Breaking Bread". Being a catholic country, I'm pretty sure it did indeed have religious implications, however the baker in me also says it had a lot to do with the chemistry of baking, distribution of heat.
When Irish people refer to brown bread , we are indeed making reference to traditional Irish soda bread.
The ingredients and the method are quite simple really. This brown bread is served with soups and salmon, sliced and slathered with Irish butter and home made jams and marmalades. The crumbs from this bread are used to make the delicious brown bread ice cream, a recipe I will share at a later date.
The bread made with white flour and fruits is more commonly known as 'speckled dog' and is more of a tea bread or a cake. This too is a delicious treat. Many families have their own recipes handed down to them from generation to generation. The most important thing is the love associated with them and the sheer pleasure from eating them.
RACHEL GAFFNEY’S MUM’S IRISH SODA BREAD
3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons wheat germ
3 teaspoons rolled oats
2 cups of buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola/sunflower oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. You can use a floured pizza stone or lightly grease a 1lb loaf pan. In a large bowl, put in all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Add the oil. Now mix well and you may add more buttermilk if you wish. It should not be too dry. You can either add to your loaf pan or make a round on a pizza stone/baking sheet. If you make a round, using the ‘TIP of a SHARP knife’ make a cross in the bread. Sprinkle with some more oats if you wish for a rustic look. Then bake 45 minutes. When you tap the bread, it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire tray.
You can catch this video of Rachel doing her thing at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnNZS_UGMUA