Irish Soda Bread

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A little known fact about me – I actually have a cow named after me living in a small town in Ireland. Ever since I spent three weeks in County Monaghan in high school, I’ve felt a deep affinity for Ireland, despite having no genealogical ties. Ireland is one of those rare places that actually exceeds its stereotypes (like New York City, California, and Paris). It really is that green. People are that friendly and love to make you laugh. Ireland was the first place I heard a sheep – coincidently sheep exceed expectations too; they really say “baaa, baaaa” – drove on the left side of the road, and fell deeply in love with a country.

I recently re-visited Ireland during the summer. It’s a rare thing to find a place with worse weather than the pacific northwest but I can say that Ireland is just such a place. It was cold and rainy every day for the two weeks I was there in August. Interestingly enough I learned while I was there that in the Gaelic calendar seasons are defined differently. Summer is observed in May, June, and July. I’d recommend either visiting in May – July or bringing a sturdy waterproof coat, warm socks, and a sense of adventure.

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While Ireland isn’t known as a culinary destination per say, we managed to find some great places.

Places to Eat in Dublin:

  • The Winding Stair – a great little spot in a historic building along the quays of the River Liffey. Thick, old, stripped wood stairs lead you up past a bookstore on the first floor to this spot looking out over the river. The Winding Stair serves traditional Irish food like potted crab, roasted lamb, and seafood chowder that highlight ingredients sourced from local, artisanal farms. We loved this place enough to go back a second time. Everything tasted fresh with flavors perfectly balanced in presentations that felt every bit as approachable as they felt polished.
  • Locks Brasserie – Tucked away in a great neighborhood along a canal outside the regular tourist destinations, this fine dining restaurant offers fresh, bright food presented with lots of polish. It’s a great place to visit for a romantic dinner. Dishes feature a lot of fresh seafood and local ingredients.
  • The Bakehouse – a cute little café, perfect for breakfast and a pot of tea tucked away along the banks of the River Liffey not far from The Winding Stair. This bakery features traditional baked goods and dishes including lovely scones, fresh baked bread and giant plates of sausages and ham.
  • Leo Burdocks – a fish and chips institution in Dublin with several spots, we tried the walk-up spot on Werbugh Street near the Christ Church Cathedral. While there’s nothing healthy about the amount of grease your fish and chips are cooked in or the portion size, it was still an experience we wouldn’t have wanted to miss, especially eating on the Cathedral grounds.

Places to Drink (either beer or tea) in Dublin:

  • Bewley’s Oriental Café – a classic, this historic tea house with lovely round, raisin scones and little individual pots of milky tea is a great spot to rest your feet for a bit while still taking in the tourist scene from Grafton Street.
  • John Kavanagh (The Gravedigger) – we’ll tell you about this long-standing institution but in order to find it you’ll have to ask a local. It’s tucked away next to the giant Glasnevin Cemetary with sloping ceilings and shutters that used to shelter covert IRA meetings. If you’re brave enough you can order whiskey on tap or simply sip your Guinness while rubbing elbows with locals. This pub was more authentic than anything else we tried or could imagine.
  • Stags Head – a lively cheery place that’s good for grabbing a pint while watching live, traditional Irish music
  • O’Neill’s – a good place for traditional Irish pub fare
  • Bleeding Horse – this pub has been in operation on its prominent corner on the very walkable Camden Street for over two hundred years

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Places to Visit Outside of Dublin:

  • Moran’s Oyster Cottage – Just outside Galway this 250 year old family business is a great side trip. We sipped briny oysters and ate big chunks of local cheese on brown bread while fighting off the seagulls perched on the thatched roof of the cottage and along the banks of the weir.
  • Sheridan’s Cheesemonger – We could have spent hours in this cheery cheese store fronting St. Nicholas’ Church Square. Its knowledgable and friendly purveyors will gladly slice you off bites to taste and walk you through the coolers stuffed to the brim with a wide selection of cheeses. We’d recommend sticking to the local specialities, especially Cashel Blue. If I hadn’t been pregnant and if I’d had more time, I would have spent more of it exploring the growing farmhouse cheesemaking scene (Irish Cheese Makers Guide)
  • Griffins Bakery Café – In our pursuit of traditional Irish Soda Bread, we were directed to this old fashioned bakery established in 1876. While they were sold out, there were plenty of other nice looking loaves of bread we would have settled for.
  • McCambridge’s – If you find yourself wandering the cobbled streets and canals of Galway entranced by the storefronts, first glimpses of sunshine, and tunes from street musicians and you miss lunch, grab a quick bite to take out at this gourmet grocery that has lots of fresh options.

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Places to Stay
We stayed at some truly awesome little air bnb places that I wanted to share. If I had the chance to go back, I’d definitely go out of my way to stay at the eco-forge. I entertained serious day dreams about living in this rambling cottage with its garden patch, stone walls, and chickens.

  • Blacksmith’s Eco-Forge – Near the Bride River in County Cork in Conna, 40 minutes NE of Cork, this is a very nice room in an even nicer house that’s been updated. Sheets hang over the fireplace to dry while chickens scratch around the windows and locals invite you out to the pub if your host is no where to be found.
  • Moan Laur B&B – We liked our little attic room tucked away from the chilly fog clinging to the nearby rolling bogs. A great starting point for exploring the Dingle Peninsula out of the craziness of the usual tourist routes. The beach is only a short drive away and fun to explore.

Places We’ll Go Back For:

  • The Farmers Market in County Cork – this famed culinary destination happens to be closed on Sundays (when we passed through) so take note as it seems like a worthwhile destination.
  • The Pigs Ear – in a great spot looking out over the Trinity Playing Grounds, this restaurant received a Michelin Bib Gourmand Award in 2014 offers traditional Irish fare with a modern touch.
  • Queen of Tarts – a bakery in Dublin with two locations run by sisters who spent time baking in Brooklyn offers fresh baked goods in cozy spaces
  • Brick Alley Café – a cozy little coffee shop in Dublin
  • Chapter 1 Restaurant – a high end restaurant in the basement of the Dublin Writers’ Museum offering modern presentations for foodies

grains w flourDespite spending two weeks in Ireland on the hunt for some soda bread, this was the one thing we managed to end the trip without trying. The idea of a dense, rich Irish Soda Bread loaf stayed with me like the memory of waves of green hills falling into the ocean. This recipe is a combination of the denser, darker Irish Soda Bread with that of the richer, sweeter more Americanized version. The crumb is light, the flavor delicious, and the recipe dead simple. If you’re afraid of making bread, this is the starter recipe for you.


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Irish Soda Bread

Feel free to adapt by changing the proportions of the flour, oat and wheat brans or using other flours like spelt or rye. I could see adding in wheat germ as well or other seeds or nuts. I could see swapping out half the flour for whole wheat pastry flour. Try changing out the raisins for cherries or apricots or a different combination of dried fruit. But whatever you do, don’t leave out the caraway seeds.

Quantity: one large, round loaf roughly 8″ to 10″ across

Time to Prepare: 45 minutes (plus an overnight rest in the fridge)

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat bran
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup buttermilk + a little extra
1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) cold
2 cups golden raisins and currants
2 heaping tablespoons caraway seeds + a little extra

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly flour a baking sheet or use a non-stick mat or coat with cooking spray.

Using your hands, mix the flour, oat and wheat bran, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Once incorporated, take your butter and cut into small 1/2 inch size pieces and work in with your fingers until the larger chunks are incorporated and no piece of butter is larger than the size of a small pea. Now, stir in with your hands or with a wooden spoon the caraway seeds, raisins, and currants.

Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and lightly mix in with a fork until the liquid is incorporated and the dough is thick, wet, and shaggy and just beginning to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until the dough holds together. Part of the beauty of this recipe is there’s no need to worry over if you’ve kneaded correctly or the right amount of time. You just want to lightly bring the dough together and shape it into a circle. Don’t knead for longer than a minute.

Shake the dough into a round shape roughly 2 or so inches high and 8″ to 10″ across. Place on the prepared baking sheet and using a very sharp knife or an exacto blade cut a cross into the top of the dough, cutting down at least an inch for a deep cut that will unfold itself while the loaf bakes and cutting almost all the way out to the edges. I actually like to cut bread into 6 or even 8 segments because it makes it easier to tear off nice big hunks. Brush the top of the bread with the little extra buttermilk and toss a handful of caraway seeds on top.

Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom when you pick it up from the sheet. Roughly 35 – 40 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely and try to refrain from starting to nibble away at the edges immediately.

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