Rough and craggy on the outside, tender on the inside, Irish soda bread is the perfect treat for celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
The bread -- so named for the baking soda that makes it rise -- became popular in Ireland in the 19th century, before yeast was in wide use there, Alan Davidson writes in The Oxford Companion to Food. The crosses cut in the top both helped the bread bake faster, and, lore had it, warded off the devil. (A tic-tac-toe pattern works well, too.)
Shirley Coleman, a chef instructor at Baltimore International College, showed us an easy version made with raisins, called a "spotted dog" in Ireland. Coleman uses golden raisins because she finds them slightly sweeter than the dark kind.
According to kingarthur flour.com, the Web site of King Arthur Flour, Irish soda bread was traditionally baked in a Dutch oven over a peat fire. For the modern recipe Coleman uses, you can just knead this pliable dough a few times, shape it into a circle and bake it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Or you can bake it in a loaf pan coated with nonstick spray.
The bread may appear done before its recommended baking time is up. Coleman suggests checking for wetness with a toothpick in the very center.
STEP BY STEP
Combine dry ingredients, then crumble butter in with your hands until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Stir in buttermilk until dough comes together.
Lightly knead the dough several times and pat into a circle.
Use a serrated knife to score the dough, taking care not to cut too deep.
IRISH SODA BREAD / / MAKES 16 SLICES
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
11 / 2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 / 2 teaspoon salt
1 / 4 cup cold butter
1 cup golden raisins
13 / 4 cups 1 percent low-fat buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter (or crumble it in your hands) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add raisins. Stir in buttermilk just until moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; gently knead 6 to 8 times.
Place on an ungreased baking sheet; pat into a 7-inch round loaf. Using a sharp knife, score the dough about 1 / 4 inch deep on top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Per serving: 184 calories, 4 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 34 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 264 milligrams sodium