home cooking

Me, Irish? Oh, boy am I!

soda bread

My sister posted this link on Facebook, and I am 100% behind it all.  In particular the milk bottle legs.  I have those in spades!   And the complete aversion to the sun, yup, that’s me.  My husband says I never go outside, but that’s because the sun kills my eyes, so perhaps that part is true!

Read through the link and have a laugh, then I will give you my “Irish Mammy’s” super secret, and famously wonderful Irish Soda Bread recipe.

Top 10 Things the Irish Do Better

I have been working for a while on a post about ancestral food.  You know, the stuff your granny made, or if you’re lucky enough, still makes!  The holiday faves your Mom, or Dad, or Aunt makes passed down from generations before that give you the reassurance that, yes, it IS Christmas (or Kwanza or Hanukkah.)  I didn’t have the benefit of a grandmother near enough to have those memories growing up, my granny was in Ireland when I was small, so there wasn’t a huge amount of face to face contact.  I do remember my Granny Lambert making me very, very milky, sweet tea in a little cup, before my mother woke up, and just talking. Sadly she passed when I was about 6 or 7.

On my Dad’s side there was my Grandma Van Hemelryck (her maiden name).  Her legend looms very large, mostly because she was a legend and a commanding woman.  But, she was gone long before my parents met, so I only have stories and impressions from the rest of my older cousins and my Dad.  One day, I’ll post about the wonderful journey I have had looking back at her history and trying to trace her family in Belgium.  It’s been a blast, but in some ways disappointing.  She was a woman that had things to hide, apparently, so our stories don’t always turn out to be easily traceable.

My Mom, who is also Elizabeth, is from a little town in the east of Ireland called Woodenbridge.  If you blink on the road, you’ll likely miss it.  And her mother, Sara Deegan, was from Dublin.  My mother makes, what I assume is her mother’s soda bread.  And it’s highly prized.  It comes out for St. Patrick’s Day, of course, but also for work parties, and people visiting.  Hers can be made with raisins or not, and definitely NOT with caraway seeds.  They’re an abomination as far as I am concerned! (On a side note, I have to figure out where that ingredient came into the mix, I don’t think it’s very naturally abundant in Ireland…)

A few notes, as always about this recipe.  I use butter and buttermilk.  My mother never used butter when we were kids, she used margarine, so you do have that option.  For the buttermilk, she still uses a teacup of whole milk and some white vinegar.  It curdles the milk, and produces the acid that a buttermilk brings to the cooking process.  The vinegar doesn’t leave any different taste than the buttermilk tang does.  Both methods are completely usable, so remember that when you’re casting around for buttermilk.  I also use self raising flour, I like the extra loft it gives the bread, but you can use plain white unbleached, or bread flour.  Indeed, you can use half whole wheat and half white flour, and get a more toothy and healthy bread.  And again, the raisins are optional.  The Hubby doesn’t like them, I do, so I usually make two loaves, one with and one without.  This is seriously good, and so simple.  It makes for a lovely snack with butter slavered all over it, or some jam.  Or just on it’s own.  The crumb is very tender, so you don’t need tea to wash it down, but why mess with the tradition?  Anyone want to stop by for a cuppa?

My Mom’s Irish Soda Bread

  • 2 cups self-raising flour (see notes above)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, or margarine cold, cubed
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or the above alternative)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet with a rim, lay out some parchment paper, or lightly butter it.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and combine well.  Add the cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and toss so they’re coated.  With your hands and fingers, or two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour.  If you use your hands and rub and squeeze the butter into the flour.  You will end up with a mixture that looks a bit like wet sand.  If you’re using the raisins, add them and toss to coat in the flour.  At this point, if you have room, place the bowl into the fridge to cool.  The key is to have the butter as cold as possible when you put it in the oven.  If you don’t have room, just set it somewhere cool for a bit.

After 10 minutes or so, make a well in the flour mixture and add the buttermilk.  With a good stiff wooden spoon, mix everything together until well combined, you’ll have to work hard to get all the flour in, but do.  It’s typically a very messy dough, so don’t be alarmed.  Turn it out onto a well floured surface and kneed it briefly, but not much, the less you work this the more tender it will be.  Once it becomes a little more cohesive, shape into a low round flat shape, and let it rest for 5 minutes or so.  Then, place it on the baking sheet, and cut a shallow cross into the top.  This will help it rise and makes it look pretty, as well as making it easier to cut.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until you hear a hollow sound when you tap the top and it’s golden all over.  Take the whole sheet out of the oven and tip the bread so the edge is suspended on the rim, to allow any moisture to evaporate while the bread cools.  When it’s just out of the oven, rub some butter over the top, this will keep it moist and adds some extra goodness to it!

Allow the bread to cool completely before you eat it.  I was told if you don’t, it will give you a stomach ache… but who knows!


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