With St. Patrick's Day still in our wake (and I guess for those who may have had a little too much of that green beer and/or a few too many pints o' Guinness, it may still be with you), my thoughts this week are staying with things Irish.
Now, before you start this recipe I highly recommend backing up a step. Go and read the article, "Irish Soda Bread, as It Was Meant to Be". It will give you some history (in fact this recipe is based on a set of 19th century instructions), some tips, and infuse your recipe with some true feeling for the simple beauty of the Irish soda bread. Consider it a primer on what makes real Irish soda bread real. Trust me. It will put you in the right mood for making this warm, crusty loaf.
The recipe itself is not all that difficult (it uses exactly FOUR ingredients and the recipe has only a handful of steps). The key is in the right ingredients, the right quantities, and (especially) in how you handle the dough.
This recipe is heavy on the buttermilk. It has a 120% hydration (in other words, 20% more buttermilk than flour by weight). So the way you treat the dough will have a big impact on gluten formation. The less you mix the crunchier the crust. The more you mix (and we're only talking about 20 seconds more), will allow more gluten formation for a higher rise, the crust will be thinner and smoother, and have a chewier crumb. In other words, "...with a mindful approach, you can encourage the dough in either direction: less stirring for a more rustic loaf, more stirring for a smoother, better-risen one." It's up to you.
As I said, the recipe is pretty easy. Before you begin, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a deep, 10-inch enameled or cast iron Dutch oven with parchment paper. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and baking soda) in a large bowl. Whisk them together fully - about a minute. Stir in the buttermilk and mix (using a wooden spoon or stiff rubber spatula).
The dough is going to be a wet dough - somewhere between being too soft (almost like a batter) that you can't handle it in your hands and too stiff to be able to pour it out. You essentially scraping the dough out of the bowl into the Dutch oven. Once in the Dutch oven you score the top deeply with a cross and cover it. Then into the oven for about 45 minutes. The loaf will rise and turn a golden brown. Then remove the lid and bake another 12-15 minutes. When done, remove it from the Dutch oven my inverting it over a cooling rack, removing the parchment paper, and the turning it back right-side up to allow the crumb to set (about 30 minutes). Enjoy! See? Easy.
Just a bit about the SeriousEats.com blog. It is truly one of my favorites. Great information. Great recipes - which they develop and test themselves. They also do lots of trusted reviews of food products as well. It's definitely one of my trusted go-to resources. And, even though the name includes the word "serious", it's always a fun read. I highly recommend checking them out!
I am truly a fan of recipes like this one. The history. The simplicity. The warm, wonderful loaf. It reminds me of Ireland. Trust me, this is truly one of those recipes that you won't want to save only for St. Patricks Day. Sláinte!
And I'd LOVE it if you would share the blog or this post with anyone you think would love it too! Thanks! :)