On St. Patrick's Day, I figure we're all Irish. I must have some Irish in my background. Somewhere on a bright green branch of my family tree of English, Scots, and Scandinavians (the Vikings got around, you know).
This month on #BreadBakers, we're celebrating this Irish holiday, and I confess a number of us chose to make a version of soda bread. I'm looking forward to seeing them all.
The Irish aren't the first to use baking soda as a bread leavener, but they made it famous with this bread that's popular all over the world. The roots for this approach to bread-making stems from two challenges the Irish faced.
First, the wheat they grew was a soft variety, much softer the the hard wheat grown in England. Flour ground from hard wheat wants yeast to achieve a light, airy bread. Soft wheat flour does not, and in fact doesn't do well with yeast. To make breads lighter with their flour, the Irish used baking soda.
Second, yeast would have been a luxury for most Irish in the mid-1800's, making the less expensive soda a more achievable way for them to lighten their bread. The earliest versions were a very economical mixture of flour, soda, soured milk, and salt. Today we use buttermilk for the soured milk, and over time there were changes as bakers in other countries added eggs and sugar. Currants began to show up in the bread at some point, and is often referred to as Spotted Dog.
I went one step further with some changes, because that's what I do, and soaked the raisins in whiskey. In one of my batches, I added a bunch of orange zest, and never looked back. Then I began experimenting with adding sour cream to get a little more tang in the flavor. The result was a flavorful, moist, hearty bread. It's a dense bread, I should warn, in comparison to breads we're more familiar with.
Before baking, a cross was cut on the top with a knife, commonly thought to ward off the devil and protect the household. I took no chances, and slashed away.
If you make this bread, and you're in Instagram, please post a photo and tag me @wimpyvegetarian, and use the hashtag #wimpyvegetarian !! I'd love to see how it worked for you !! And please ask if you have any questions in the comments below.
And here are some more breads I've collected on my Pinterest Board, Wimpy Vegetarian Breads! Come visit me here.
I used cake flour to better approximate the cake-like texture of the Irish soft wheat flour.
You can free-mold the dough into a round as I did, or bake it in an oven-safe skillet. Most Irish didn't have ovens as we know them today, and often baked this bread in a griddle pan.
Use a razor blade to slice a cross in the dough, just before sliding into a preheated oven.
Soda Bread with Raisins and Orange Zest | #BreadBakers
- 1 ½ cup dark raisins
- ¾ cup whiskey
- 3 ½ cups 15.75 ounces cake flour (3 1/3 cups (14.9 ounces) at High Altitude Baking (HAB) ~ 6500 ft)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda 1 teaspoon for HAB
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 ½ table salt
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- Zest of 1 navel orange
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
- 1/3 cup light sour cream ½ cup for HAB
- Combine the raisins and whiskey together in a small bowl, and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
- Place a pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven, and preheat to 350˚ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, and orange zest in a medium bowl.
- Work in the butter by hand, by rubbing the butter into the flour mixture between your fingers. There's not enough butter for a pastry blender to be effective.
- Form a well in the flour. Whisk together the buttermilk and sour cream in a measuring cup, and pour into the well. Drain the raisins, and add to the buttermilk.
- Fold the flour into the buttermilk and raisins using a spatula. “Knead” the bread in the bowl with the spatula by sweeping the spatula around the bowl, under the dough, and flipping the dough in the bowl. Continue until the flour is completely incorporated in the liquid, and knead a few more times.
- Flip the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, and roughly shape into a round.
- Slash a cross on the top using a blade.
- Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, or until a probe inserted into the middle reads 195 - 200˚ F. Cool on a rack before slicing. Serve with butter, jam (fig jam is fabulous with it), or apple butter.