Preparing for St. Patrick’s Day

A very good friend of mine is a transplant from Ireland.  She and her husband have lived in the States for over 30 years, but I imagine that they miss some of the comforts of home.  Last year, my daughters and I wanted to do something special for them for St. Patrick’s Day, so I decided that we would make them some Irish Soda Bread and take them a potted shamrock plant.  Super cute, right?  The thing about it is, though, that I have NO IDEA what a traditional Irish Soda Bread should taste like, and when I looked on the internet, there were about a bazillion different recipes, all claiming to be “just like grandma used to make.”

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From what I could gather, soda breads vary from family to family.  Some recipes use caraway seeds.  Some recipes call for raisins, others for golden raisins.  After about 15 minutes of searching, I wasn’t any closer to finding the “perfect” soda bread recipe.  So I did what any good cook would do… I blindly chose one.  It seemed easy and didn’t have any caraway seeds, which have a strong flavor, but it did call for golden raisins, which seemed a little more exotic than just plain purple ones.  During Violet’s nap, Mazie and I set up a bread-making station in the kitchen and went to work.  It’s great cooking with a 3-year-old.  No, really. But after the flour incident that left the kitchen dusted in soft, white powder, we threw our loaf in the oven and waited.  It plumped up nicely and cooked to a golden brown, and while it was still warm, we wrapped it in a tea towel, woke up the baby, and headed over to Gemma and Ed’s.

I was so pleased with myself until about half way over to their house.  Then, I was seized with panic.  I remembered that I have NO IDEA what soda bread is.  What if I had made this one completely wrong?  I only made one loaf so I didn’t even taste it.  What was I thinking?!  I was instantly transported back to my first year living in Austria, when friends of mine took me out for “Mexican” food.  After a long winter away from Southern California, the idea of Mexican food literally brought tears to my eyes.  I needed a burrito.  My soul was calling out for some beans.  And salsa.  When the waitress brought my chicken burrito with beans, on my plate sat a cold flour tortilla, open, with strips of grilled chicken and green beans.  Green.  Beans.  No salsa.  No refried beans.  Cold tortilla.  What if my little warm bundle of soda bread was just like that cold un-burrito?  Well, I thought, at least my kids are cute and wearing green shirts.  That has to count for something, right?

As luck (of the Irish?) would have it though, Gemma said that our soda bread was great and very authentic. She made us tea and shared the bread, and even brought out the good Irish butter.  So this year, again, we’ll make our little bread and deliver it to our friends.  If you’re a fan of a good, homemade bread, try it this St. Patrick’s Day.  Set your Pandora station to Irish music, and enjoy!

Irish Soda Bread

1 package (1/4 oz) dry yeast

3 Tablespoons sugar, divided

1/2 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)

1 cup warm buttermilk

2 Tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 1/2 – 4 cups flour

3/4 cup golden raisins

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Beat in the buttermilk, butter, salt, baking soda, 1 cup flour and remaining sugar until smooth. Stir in raisins and enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.
  3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead for 2 minutes. Shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. With a sharp knife, cut a 1/4-in.-deep cross on top of loaf.
  4. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to cool on a wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf (12 slices).

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