Sunday, March 2, 2014

Irish Soda Bread - Guest Post

St. Patrick's Day is a big deal in NJ.  Yesterday there was a kick-off parade in Hoboken, and a big one was held today in Belmar.  Parades march up and down the state throughout the entire month of March.  I'm not Irish.  So instead I'll share with you a guest post from an Irish-American co-worker about that quintessential Irish treat--soda bread.

Photo by Patrick ... or his sister.













While most people think soda bread has its roots in Ireland, according to those famous Irish experts, wikipedia and epicurious, soda bread recipes evolved in various forms all over the world.  And what people in the US believe to be Irish soda bread is not the same soda bread tradtionally made in Ireland. 

Getting back to my co-worker, Patrick makes a wonderful US-style Irish Soda bread (using an old family recipe), and graciously provided me with said recipe along with its fascinating history.   Patrick has a great "speaking" voice in his writing.  Too bad this isn't a video.    Anyway, enough of my chatter ... here's Patrick!

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Thanks to Dena for letting me share a long-standing and very popular family recipe with your community!

This recipe goes back a long way in my family to a cousin of my maternal grandmother, an Irish woman named Sarah McKenna.














Sarah was born in 1923 in County Leitrim, Ireland but came to America in about the 1950s, and lived most of her life in this country in Brooklyn, NY and for the last years of her life with her daughter, son-in-law, and their three children in Yonkers, NY. Sarah died last summer 2013 from complications of dementia. My mom claims, without exaggeration, that Sarah baked one of these soda breads nearly every day of her life! My mom is the “designate” soda bread maker in our wider family, my aunts and uncle claim she is the only one of them who gets this recipe right! Sarah gave my mom this recipe years and years ago and it continues to be very popular as a St. Patrick’s Day gift, but also something we gave to my colleagues at work and teachers my sister and I had through our time in school around Christmas time. Occasionally people would come hinting subtly or not subtly that they almost expected to get one around the holidays or St. Patrick’s Day!

This recipe has stood the test of time but, like most family recipes it has been slightly altered here and there when we feel the need arises. More about that in the instructions.


Sarah McKenna’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe


3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (preferably King Arthur brand)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
sanct 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup raisins
little more than ½ stick of salted butter at room temperature or margarine (a word about that later)
1 large egg plus little bit of buttermilk
1 cup buttermilk


To start with you will need a round cake pan (about 8-9 inches) and preferably PAM w/ baking powder cooking spray (regular PAM is also ok) and set your oven to 350F.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Regarding the flour, my mom tells me Sarah said has to be King Arthur brand four. Regarding the “light” half teaspoon, my mom says use slightly less than half a teaspoon if using a measuring spoon, if using a regular spoon do the same thing

Add the cup of raisins and combine with dry ingredients. One of the bones of contention my mom has about how I do this recipe is that I do not use raisins and it comes out just the same. I’ve seen recipes for this bread that use caraway seeds. While my mom feels this recipe is set in stone I say if you like caraway seeds, add some! The same goes for currants: substitute the cup of raisins for a cup of currants if you prefer.

In a measuring cup (or regular large glass) mix with a fork one egg with the little bit of buttermilk. When I say a little bit I mean a pour a few drops almost equal to the size of the egg yolk or slightly more. Add that to the dry ingredients but do not mix in yet.

Pour in the 1 cup of buttermilk and then mix it in with the dry ingredients. It will be crumbly but should begin to show signs of forming a kind of dough.

· Add the butter to the mix by cutting average slabs off the stick. Regarding the butter, Sarah’s original recipe called for margarine. I have never tasted a soda bread made with margarine but my mom claims using butter is a big improvement. My theory about this soda bread’s popularity is the amount of butter we put in. Please note this recipe calls for salted butter rather than unsalted butter like other baking recipes. Room temperature butter makes it easier to do the next step

Once butter has been added knead the dough by hand until the butter has been completely worked into the mixture and no lumps remain. This is why the butter should be at room temperature, the softer it is the easier it will be to knead. It is very, very sticky work but keep working everything together until you have a sticky ball of dough. If you feel it is too sticky and you can’t work with it, half-way through kneading wet your hands with a little water when you knead the dough. Another occasional problem is there is often a little bit of the dry ingredients remaining after all the kneading, including a number of the raisins The ultimate bread is a normal size for the pan you bake it in so there may be no need to work what little remains of the dry mix into it, but it doesn’t hurt to try and work it in.   The dough should be round and sticky and your hands should be very messy.

Sticky hands means you're doing it right.














Before putting it in the oven, using a small sharp knife, make an X on the top of the dough. Bake between 50 and 60 minutes (I do it at 55 minutes and it comes out fine), check if done by sticking a knife in it and when you pull it out it should be almost totally dry. If still moist put in for anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes.

Let cool for up to half an hour, the bread should be dome-shaped with a golden-brown outside, and white inside.

I wish you happy baking and thank you again to Dena for letting me post this recipe!


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