Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baking wth Julia and Dorie: Irish Soda Bread

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated somewhat differently by my family.  We don’t use alcohol in our home, we don’t go to the big downtown parade, and our religion does not honor the man, although we do admire him and learn about him as far as history has recorded his life. And, we did name #2 son with his name.  #2 was a March baby, we had chosen the name, Ryan, for him, and Patrick seemed to be the perfect middle name for our precious Spring babe.

We do, however, look forward to this green holiday.  It is another fun family and food day.  The decorations are amusing, we get pinched if we don’t wear green, we love minty chocolate, shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows, and especially pots of gold.  And in my younger years, I remember how my friends and I dyed our hair green using Kool Aid...it actually took weeks to wash out.

Most of all, this day gives us a time to reflect on our family heritage which includes lots of Irish as well as a good mix of everything European.  Hubby’s grandmother was a Galligher, a great Irish name, and my grandfather’s side also has a Scottish-Irish background.  My people were actually Scotts who were transplanted to and then suppressed in Ireland for a few hundred years.  Because of their hard lives and also the Irish famines,  they immigrated to America through the ports in Delaware back in the early 1700's where they moved on and built their lives in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.  I have great feelings of love and respect for these people who came from across the deep sea’s Emerald Isle.

My people come from a different race stock of people (the Irish Presbyterians who are much like the English) than Hubby’s Irish background that  comes through the Celtic, Catholic Irish people.  These two groups have never seen eye-to-eye.  To my people, the Roman Church was the instrument of the Devil and reform was the will of God.  Obviously Hubby’s side of the family had an opposing point of view.

My background is from a people who are very tenacious, opinionated, and  set in their ways.  They are a tough and hardy breed, built for physical labor.  My Scottish-Irish Pennsylvania ancestor women endured hardships, were energetic and patiently shared the dangers and privations of frontier life.  They were physically well-developed with features that indicated force of character rather than refinement of beauty.  They could work in gardens, weave cloth, brew and bake, make and mend, sweep and scrub, rock the cradle, and rule the household.

The Scotch-Irish made more whisky and drank more of it than any other group.  Many of the farmers, having their own stills, had several barrels of it in their cellars.  Drinking was taken as a matter of course, and was hospitality and a courtesy for those who hosted friends to offer them lots of liquor.  Not to have done so would have been a serious breach of etiquette. These Irish drinking traditions continue to this day. 

My Irish grandmothers, going back many, many generations, were the bakers of loaves such as the beloved Irish Soda Bread, from our recipe today, bringing their recipes and ways with them from the "old country" to hand down through the family lines.

I must say that it was great fun to plan and prepare an Irish meal that was completed by a warm loaf of Irish bread...I thought, as I baked, of how my great, great...grandmothers would have baked this lovely, delicious bread.
I knew from the moment I read through the recipe for today's baking that I wanted to make some changes.  Marion Cunningham's recipe is basically the same one I bake every St. Paddy's day for our family dinner.  I read through all your suggestions for mix-ins and changes and looked over the internet for additional ideas.  I decided to use half whole wheat as my basic dough to this extra large biscuit bread.

Because I've been sitting at the computer day and night...well at least it seems like I have...for the past 3 months, doing year end office work and taxes, I need to begin a more healthy lifestyle.  To get through taxes I eat sugar and more sugar and some butter and more sugar.  Today I will send my taxes off to our CPA for review... so today is finally time for a healthy change...at least for a week.

Along with the whole wheat I also took out 1/2 cup of the flour and substituted wheat bran, wheat germ, and old-fashioned oats.  So that this mixture would not taste too healthy, I added a couple tablespoons of dark brown sugar  and just a little butter to my ingredient list.

Then as I read through your ideas I chose to add currants...I have dried black currents in my pantry, and I also liked the idea of dried apricots.  So I chopped up a couple handfuls of those and added them along with the black currents to my dough.

I found that the whole grains do not absorb the buttermilk as readily as plain white flour, creating a stickier dough that needed an extra 5 minutes of oven time.  I also baked this recipe at a 25^ hotter temperature.

The photos have spots that may look like burned pieces, however, these are the black currants...no burn.

I'm glad I made my changes.  I enjoyed the texture and the fruits with their added flavors.  And the whole grains and extra wheat bran and germ gave additional good flavor.  And these changes made a loaf that became even more flavorful the next day rather than becoming as hard as a blarney stone.

I'm looking forward to toast for breakfast with some more of my yummy raspberry jam.  

This is an easy bread that gives great results especially compared to the expended effort.  I'll do it again next year.



  1. mmm... brown sugar sounds good. might have to try that with some zest.

  2. Love all the different additions you put in. Great idea with the jam on the side!

  3. Whole grains and dried fruit sound like wonderful additions!

  4. Kris, I love the addition of the whole grains…will definitely give it a try next time. Your loaf looks simply beautiful! Nice post!

  5. This is one gorgeous Irish soda bread, congratulations and I'm glad you enjoyed the holiday;-)

  6. Great change ups!
    Glad your tax season is over - hopefully, you can catch a breath now.

  7. What a wonderful post you wrote! Great looking bread, too.

  8. Love, love your photos, Kris! The texture on your bread looks wonderful. I also need to start adding a little wheat flour into the mix when I bake bread. I bet the wheat germ gave it a nice little crunch. Beautiful job!

  9. Great post. Thanks for sharing your family history.

  10. I really like the idea of throwing some oats into the mix. I'll have to try that.

  11. Looks great, Kris! I love that you turned it into a breakfast bread with fruit, nuts & jam. I have no idea what's wrong with me - I completely spaced on this! But, I'm sure I'll try it at some point looking at all thw great results!

  12. How about "Kristified"! LOL!

  13. Nice! Your changes sound like they made a yummy loaf of bread!

  14. A splendid looking loaf of Irish bread- really enjoyed your history, also.