Monday, April 23, 2012

At long last! A traditional seeded Irish soda bread

Well. I have been trying to make this forever. When my lovely Irish neighbor was fixing to leave town for New York, I asked her to tell me how she makes bread. Recreating a traditional soda bread (not the caraway-raisin one I turn out each year around St. Patrick's Day) is difficult on this side of the Atlantic because the flours are so different.

Being a professional cook and a frequent bread baker, my former neighbor didn't have a recipe to hand me. But she rattled off the ingredients and I sleuthed out a recipe online that sounded a lot like the bread she bakes several times a week.

You should feel free to tinker with it yourself, adding oats or other grains as you like. For example, the original recipe called for wheat and oat bran. I didn't have either in my pantry, but I did have a box of 7 Grain Hot Cereal which contains cracked wheat, steel cut oats, grits and millet - sort of a chicken scratch that gave the bread some nice texture.  Just follow the basic dry to liquid ratio and you'll turn out something delightful. My version is a slight adaptation from a recipe on Epicurious, which was reprinted with permission from A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent.

Anyway, the bread is quite perfect - very authentic and yet less dry than the brown breakfast bread I ate in Ireland. I baked it in a cast iron skillet, which may have helped.

Seeded Irish Soda Bread
Print recipe only here 


INGREDIENTS
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for shaping
3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup wheat bran AND 1/4 cup oat bran OR 1/2 cup 7 Grain Hot Cereal OR 1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 T flax seeds
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 large egg
About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 T honey

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly oil a heavy baking sheet or cast iron pan or line it with a silicone baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the fat particles are very fine. Stir in the baking soda, salt, wheat bran and oat bran (or substitutes), wheat germ, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds.

Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a 2-cup glass measure. Add enough buttermilk to come to the 2-cup line. Add the honey and combine well.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough gathers into a thick, wet-looking mass.

Sprinkle your work surface with whole wheat flour and scrape the dough onto it. Dust the dough with a bit more whole wheat flour. Pat the dough into a circular shape about 7 inches across and 2 inches high and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet.

Make a cross-shaped indentation on top of the loaf going right to the edges. I use a metal bench scraper.
Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, until it is well browned and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.

Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

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