Sunday, January 9, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

grand, super, brilliant !

First off, a shout out to Culinary Orgasm's new official main photographer...#1 Son Alex. Alex took all of the pictures in this entry with his new Nikon Coolpix, and he's done a great job - see the end of this entry for more of his work. Much easier having someone else wield the camera !

So...Irish Soda Bread. I cannot make this bread without thinking about Uncle Ed. Growing up, I spent every summer with Uncle Ed (great uncle, technically) and Narn (my great aunt Alice, who everyone called "Narn"). Uncle Ed was a textbook Southie guy, an Irish American war vet with a gruff exterior covering the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known. Uncle Ed took to retirement in Maine with gusto - dog food in his pockets everywhere he went, a fixture on his benches waiting for the mail, reading his Herald, listening to the Sox or just watching the world go by. He doted on his nieces and nephews, and no birthday was ever complete without Uncle Ed calling and singing "Happy Birthday" in his trademark vibrato-filled baritone. Lord, I miss that man.

In any event, as much as Uncle Ed loved Maine, he was always so happy when folks came down from Boston - especially from Southie, and especially if they came bearing Irish Soda Bread for him to have with his beloved tea. His eyes would light up, and he'd make that stuff last as long as he possibly could. But it was only when I married a part-Irishman and learned to actually appreciate a good corned beef dinner that I even thought about making it myself. It took a few tries, but now I really have it down...I think Uncle Ed would have absolutely loved this, and that is saying something. I only wish I had made it for him when he was still alive...don't put things off, folks. Do things for the people you love now. I promise you, you'll both feel better for it.

A few notes about the calls for two ingredients you may not have around the house, buttermilk and Golden Cane Sugar. Golden Cane Sugar is a very light brown natural sugar with a fantastic flavor - like brown sugar but not quite as much molasses flavor. I use it in all sorts of things so usually have it around - but you can very easily substitute one tablespoon of regular brown sugar and one of white sugar with no ill effects. The buttermilk, though, really is essential. The slight acidity of the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to make your final bread super light and moist (the bane of many soda bread recipes is that the loaf is heavy and dry). If you are absolutely in a bind, add two tablespoons of white vinegar to the 3/4 cup of milk and let sit at room temperature for 10 will work, but really not as well as real buttermilk. Buttermilk is sold right next to the regular milk at my trusty Stop + Shop, so it's not hard to find...this bread - and Uncle Ed - are worth the real thing.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons Golden Cane Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 cup currants

In a bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. Add the buttermilk and mix thoroughly into a soft dough. Add the currants. Knead the dough lightly on a lightly floured board for 3 minutes or until smooth. Form the dough into a 7 inch flat round, and place in a lightly oiled cake tin. Cut a cross about 1/2 inch deep in the center of the round. Bake in a 375 oven 40 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

dry ingredients waiting for butter (double batch) 

mix until it's a soft dough

kneading in the currants (my bowl is huge so I can do it right in the bowl)

cut a cross into the top

out of the oven

perfect !!

don't you want some ?

Mark's Lamb doesn't only go with corned beef, of course !

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