As some of you may know, my mom’s parents were from Ireland. Nanny was a wonderful home cook, bringing her Irish food traditions from Belfast to Brooklyn where her Italian, German, and Jewish neighbors influenced her cooking in America.
But Nanny wasn’t the only one to bring Irish food traditions, my grandfather ruled the kitchen on weekend mornings. According to my mom, Saturday mornings would be met with plenty of hot tea, eggs, bacon (or ham or sausages), potato farls, and soda bread. My grandfather would fry bacon, set it aside, then in the same pan, immediately fry the eggs in the bacon fat. From there, in went slices of plain soda bread, fried quickly on both sides until lightly brown. Can you imagine? Heaven!!! Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born, but I still grew up enjoying his Irish Soda Bread, first made by my mother, and now my dad.
My father has tweaked the recipe over the years, as I’m sure my grandfather had tweaked his own recipe. My guess is that if you ask 10 different people how they make Irish soda bread you will get 10 different recipes. What is generally accepted throughout is a combination of flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. The baking soda and buttermilk give this quick bread its rise. Another common practice is cutting a cross deep on top. Tradition states that the cross is to let the devil out and ward off evil. Practically speaking, it also helps the heat penetrate the center of the loaf as well as providing the guidelines to break the bread up beautifully when served. My mom recalls my grandfather usually making plain soda bread, and only occasionally making a sweeter version with raisins. This makes sense as years ago the addition of sugar, dried fruits, or eggs would have been a treat and only done on special occasions.
The recipe below is my version of my dad’s recipe, slightly sweet and full of raisins. This loaf is perfect for breakfast, snacking, in lunch boxes, and definitely with a cup of tea or two. I do make other soda breads, a hearty Brown Soda Bread (made with whole wheat flour) and plain White Soda Bread that is unsweetened and wonderful with soups and stews- or fried eggs and bacon. Those recipes will show up here, but first I’d like to introduce this lovely raisin studded Irish Soda Bread.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins or currants (my dad loads his with raisins and uses up to 2 cups)
1¼ -1¾ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl use a pastry blender to cut butter into flour.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the raisins or currants and mix well.
Pour in 1¼ cups buttermilk and mix, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be soft, slightly sticky, but not too wet. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just enough to completely bring it together. Shape into a round about 1½ -inches deep. Transfer to cast iron skillet or lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper cut a cross on it, deep- but not completely through.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Allow to cool slightly before enjoying!