Monday, January 24, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch or join us as our family of 6 eats on $6/day.

I like bread. I like to eat bread. I even like to make bread. But I don't always think about making bread in time to have bread when I want the bread. Sometimes it gets to be lunchtime or an hour before dinner time, and I want bread--warm homemade bread--perhaps even a lovely crusty bread that butter will drip into. On those occasions I whip out my mixing bowl, trade a mere 5 minutes of my life, and make Irish soda bread. Forty minutes later, your butter can be dripping.

At its most basic and traditional, soda bread contains flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. I like it with a bit of sugar added. And in my America's Test Kitchen cookbook, there's an slightly fancier all white flour version with butter and cream of tartar. We'll save that one for St. Patrick's Day. Because I believe that every day bread should have a bit of whole wheat. You don't have to believe that, but I do. In the recipe below I use 3 out of 4 cups of whole wheat (though I think it's my favorite at 2 C whole wheat and 2 C white flour). Feel free to alter it as you wish. Whether you use all whole wheat or none, it'll still be tasty and simple. And, of course, cheap.

Note on buttermilk: I rarely have it on hand. Thus I substitute: 1 scant C milk plus 1 T vinegar = 1 C buttermilk. You can also use sour milk, which is very cheap indeed.

Note on cook times: I divide the dough in half to make 2 smaller loaves. These take 40 minutes to cook. You can leave it all as one loaf, but it will take longer to cook (about an hour) and you'll get a darker, harder crust and possibly a gooier center.

Note on mixing: Though it pains me to admit it, this bread comes out more perfectly with a mixer. Sorry purists. The dough is quite wet and doesn't lend itself to kneading, but is difficult (nearly impossible) to mix a lot with a spoon. So the mixer is perfect and will give you a smoother loaf and crumb (more gluten able to be released or something like that). My littlest sister makes hers in a Kitchenaid and its the best I've ever had. However, let me emphasize that even without a Kitchenaid, it's very very good. I make it with a wooden spoon and a couple messy hands and mine turns out yummy too--not perfect, but still very good. I mix it as much as possible with a spoon and then turn it out and smash it about a bit and then glob it together into a round loaf with my hands. (It will kind of knead; it's just that a whole lot will stick to your hands.) I've been doing it this way since high school (yes, there were a few foods I was not too stubborn to learn to make in high school) and it works fine. But the other day when I made this--after I made this--it occurred to me that if the dough was cold, you could work it well even when it was wetter. The problem is that I'm always making this bread because I want bread NOW. So I don't want to let it rest in the refrigerator for an extra 1/2 hour. However, I think that if you did, you might end up with a smoother, more perfect loaf, even without a mixer. I will try to exercise some restraint next time I make this bread and do this and let you know how it turns out. If you try it, please report back.

Irish Soda Bread
Serves 8-12
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 40-60 minutes
Cost: $.93
(whole wheat flour: .51, white flour: .07, milk: .30, sugar: .04, soda and salt: .01 if that)

4 C flour (I used 3 C whole wheat and 1 C all purpose)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 C buttermilk (see note for subsitution above)
1/2 C raisins (optionall--I love this, but nobody else in my family does, so we go without)

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Stir in buttermilk. Mix as well as possible with a spoon. "Knead" (mash about a bit) with hands as much as possible. It should not be so wet that it can't form itself into a ball. If it is, add another 1/2 C flour. Pat into 2 rounds and place them on a greased baking sheet. Make a cross across the top with a knife. Your rounds should look like this:

Bake 35-45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Cut yourself a slice (I always start with a middle piece because I'm greedy that way) and add a pat of butter or a bit of honey. (Or slather it with butter and drench it with honey; I won't tell.)

This bread also makes really amazing French toast and really amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.



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