New Recipe: After a year of sourdough and banana bread, change it up for St. Patrick’s Day

The one-year anniversary of an international pandemic is a rather dubious thing to celebrate, even if we all could definitely use a celebration right about now.

Fortunately, St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and, in keeping with a year of baking pandemic-themed loaves of sourdough and banana bread, there’s a bread for that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a great opportunity to switch things up a bit with a loaf of Irish soda bread.

When baking bread during the past year, my first-stop website has tended to be the King Arthur Baking site. It’s not always where I end up, but I trust it to provide a reliable foundation on which to base my final recipe choice, to gauge just how far off-base a recipe goes so I can decide if I want to risk trying it.

In this case, King Arthur’s Irish soda bread was, indeed, a reliable starting point. But the first stumbling block was the flour. It called for a blend of King Arthur’s Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour, which it contends is closer to the flour that would be used in making soda bread in Ireland, and unbleached bread flour. I had neither. I could have ordered the Irish-style flour from the company, but I wanted to be able to bake my Irish bread before St. Patrick’s Day, and past experience has led me to believe King Arthur is more about delivering quality than delivering quickly.

Fortunately, a footnote said whole wheat flour was an acceptable substitute, so my afternoon baking plans still were feasible.

Especially when there also were multiple substitutes to be found for my similar lack of buttermilk. (We’re still in a pandemic and grocery runs remain limited.)

In checking out other recipes online, though, I found some variations. Some recipes called for as much as 4 tablespoons of sugar, while others barely had any. Some added dried fruit. One added Irish whiskey, while another suggested adding some Guinness.

According to The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, the only authentic ingredients in soda bread are flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. Adding anything else “makes it a ‘tea cake’,” according to the site. By that criteria, just about all of the recipes available online are at least a bit less than authentic.

The King Arthur recipe called for 3 tablespoons of sugar and ⅔ cup currants or raisins. Others called for 1 cup of cranberries.

Not a fan of dried fruit in baked goods — and striving to end up with something at least in the neighborhood of authentic — I left out the dried fruit and lowered the sugar and salt just a notch. And, in place of the buttermilk, I used a blend of milk and cream of tartar, though my attempt to blend the cream of tartar with a bit of the milk to create a slurry was less than impressive. Next time I’m out of buttermilk, I’ll probably try a different substitution. (The sour cream-and-milk option sounds promising, and sour cream has a way of giving a recipe a nice little boost.) My mother’s preference for a lemon juice-and-milk blend also might get the nod.

The King Arthur recipe also noted that substituting whole wheat flour for the Irish-style flour should involve reducing the amount of whole wheat flour used, but my final version came closer to using 4 total cups of flour, as called for in other recipes, instead of the 3.5 cups for which the King Arthur recipe called.

Still, with a bit of tweaking here and there, the resulting loaf of Irish soda bread that came out of my oven proved to be flavorful and dense. It’s not necessarily the go-to bread for when you want something light — or when you’re looking for something with a lot of nooks and crannies. But it would make an excellent accompaniment for a hardy Irish stew, shepherd’s pie or coddle, or something nibbly on its own with a slather of butter. Even better if it’s Irish butter.


Irish Soda Bread

2¼ cups whole wheat flour

1¼ cups all-purpose flour*

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, cut into pea-size pieces

1⅓ cup buttermilk

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry fork or your fingers, work in the butter pieces until it’s distributed and no large chunks remain.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour mixture into dry ingredients and combine. If it’s too crumbly to hold together, add more buttermilk. If it’s too moist, add more flour.

Knead the dough a few times and shape it into a ball. Flatten slightly and place in the cake pan. Use a sharp knife to cut a ½-inch-deep cross into the top of the loaf.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Will store for about two days, well wrapped, at room temperature or freeze for up to a month.

* You can add up to another half-cup of all-purpose flour if the dough remains too wet, but be careful not to add too much, which will lead to a dry and lackluster loaf. Adding all-purpose flour instead of whole-wheat if more flour is needed will help with the overall density of the loaf.

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