The smell of freshly baked bread, still warm, cooling on in the kitchen should be bottled and sold. Nothing is more comforting and evocative of nostalgia. This bread is no exception. There are many variations of Irish Soda Bread– some with raisins, seeds, or both; some have butter, sugar, or even an egg to make them a little richer; some with white flour, or some with whole wheat. They all share some sort of flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. This brown soda bread, made with whole-wheat flour, is the most basic version.
Throughout Ireland, brown soda bread is offered with meals- and it is incredible! I make it here at home, and though delicious, nothing compares to the bread I’ve had in Ireland. It must be the flour- the brown soda bread in Ireland is coarser and nuttier than what I’ve been able to make in my own kitchen. I am seriously considering importing a bag of whole wheat flour, just so I can experiment!
Though not an exact replica (how could it be?), this dense, chewy and hearty bread comes together quickly and is well worth making. In less than an hour, you will be enjoying a warm slice of bread, slathered in butter, with a touch of jam. It is ideal for serving alongside your favorite soup or getting you through the late afternoon slump with a cup of tea. Add it to your cheese board with cheddar and apples. It is also delicious with smoked salmon.
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 rounded teaspoons of salt
2 rounded teaspoons of baking soda
3½-3¾ cups of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Mix the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and add most of the buttermilk all in one go. Working from the center, mix with a wooden spoon and add more buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and divide dough in half. Knead each half lightly, just enough to shape it into a round loaf. Flatten each loaf to about 2 inches deep. Put into a cast iron skillet or lined baking sheet. Mark with a deep cross and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400°F for about 20-25 minutes more, or until bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped.
Remove from cast iron skillet or baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack.
Put each loaf in a cast iron skillet or lined cookie sheet. Cut deep cross in each.
Cut deep cross in each.
Bake soda bread at 450°F for 15 minutes, then turn temperature down to 400° and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes…
or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
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.
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.
Fall and winter suppers beg for chili. Hearty, warming, and versatile, chili is a one pot wonder perfect for brisk nights that begin to get dark as early as 4:30pm, casual get togethers with friends and family to watch a game in front of a roaring fire, or coming in from the cold after time spent raking leaves or shoveling snow. Of all evenings, Halloween is the ideal night for chili, shoring up your stamina (as well as that of any goblins or ghouls spooking you) for a night of trick or treating. Whether you are out in the neighborhood or manning the candy bowl at home, a warm bowl of chili before or after a night of haunts will keep you going and be an excellent antidote to all the sugar consumed.
Depending on your preferences chili can suit a wide variety of eaters… vegetarians or vegans at your table? Skip the meat and add more vegetables or beans. Offer an interesting assortment of toppings and sides like cheeses, cornbread, tortilla chips, avocado, and sour cream (I use greek yogurt) and let your family and friends build a complete meal around your chili base. And, like most stews and soups, making chili ahead of time allows it to become even more delicious. Chili only gets tastier as it “ages.”
This recipe is my own. Most of the ingredients are typical, but there are a few surprises. Dijon mustard adds a wonderful brightness and tang; the chipotle peppers in adobe sauce add a subtle smokiness, while the cinnamon delivers a hint of sweet warmth. It is also very easy to play with this recipe. Please experiment to suit your taste. Love bell peppers? Add more. Need more spice? Add a chopped jalapeño. Can’t stand onions? Eliminate or reduce the amount. Don’t like beans in your chili (I’m talking to you, dear husband!), then don’t add them. Play with your food and have fun!
The buttermilk cornbread is adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook. Kathleen King owned Kathleen’s Bake Shop in Southhampton, NY in the 80s and 90s. One summer, I was fortunate enough to visit the bakery and in addition to the cookies I bought (which were quickly consumed), I also purchased a copy of her cookbook, a lasting souvenir. It was a wise purchase. My copy of the small spiral bound book is splattered, tattered, and torn- all signs of an excellent cookbook. The book practically opens itself to certain recipes, like the Devil’s Food Cake I use for birthdays, in addition to the recipe that inspired this cornbread.
In Kathleen’s intro to the original recipe, which was for corn muffins, she explains how the recipe has changed since she first received it. Her baker altered the formula by adding half-and-half instead of milk; I’ve tweaked it again by using buttermilk, instead of half-and-half or milk. In any case, the choice is yours… buttermilk, half-and-half, and regular milk all work just fine. The buttermilk lends a wonderful tanginess that seems a natural counterpart to the sweetness of the bread; the half-and-half produces a really rich cornbread, while using regular milk leaves you with a lovely straightforward cornbread. Another occasional adjustment I make is to add frozen corn kernels to the batter, maybe a handful or two. The kernels contribute a wonderful texture to the cornbread and add pops of sweetness too.
What are your favorite sides and toppings for chili? Do you have a go to dinner for Halloween night?
1lb ground beef or turkey
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 bell peppers, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 chipotle chili in adobe sauce, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes, with juice
1 16 oz can kidney beans or black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat olive over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until beginning to turn golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Add finely chopped garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add ground meat, and cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until cooked through.
Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in chili powder, chipotle chili, mustard, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds or so.
Add beans and tomatoes with juice, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. Stir well, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with accompaniments such as rice, tortilla chips, cornbread, shredded cheddar or Monterey jack, sour cream and chopped avocado.
*This is the perfect dish to make ahead. Like most soups and stew, the longer it sits the better it gets. Just reheat when needed.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal or corn flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter and mix until crumbly. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two knives, a fork, or even your fingers.
In a separate bowl, mix buttermilk and egg. Fold liquid ingredients into flour mixture, folding just until combined. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.