I have always loved St Patrick’s Day, and I don’t really know why.
As I’m 100% Italian, perhaps my favorite day in March should be St. Joseph’s Day, which is celebrated on March 19. In southern Italy, especially in Naples, St. Joseph is honored for bringing deliverance from a drought. Special foods and breads are made to celebrate the day.
But no. As a little girl, I busied myself drawing shamrocks, rainbows, leprechauns and pots of gold. And now, as a “home chef,” I love to make beef stew, shepherd’s pie and corn beef and cabbage on that special day in March. I once spent an entire day making shamrock cookies—rolling three little balls of green dough onto a tiny “stem.” There were a lot of them and, unfortunately, they were not a big hit.
One of my favorite treats to make on St. Patrick’s Day is Irish soda bread. It is a “quick bread,” so known because it relies on baking powder and baking soda for leavening rather than yeast. Quick breads are easy to make. If you have ever whipped up some banana or zucchini bread, you have made a quick bread.
I rely on James Beard’s version of Irish soda bread. It is from a little cookbook I have long treasured called “Beard on Bread.” Written by the renowned chef, teacher, author and restaurateur, it covers every type of bread recipe you might ever look for.
Chef Beard uses whole wheat flour and promises this bread “will be different from every other bread you can find in the world.” It is best if you can make it the day you are serving it, but it comes together easily. A hearty soup, maybe lentil or ham and bean, to accompany it would be perfect. Beard offers another tip—always slice it thin!
James Beard’s Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 level teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon double acting baking powder
- 1½-2 cups buttermilk
- Combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to distribute the baking soda and baking powder.
- Add enough of the buttermilk to make a soft dough (like a biscuit dough but firm enough to hold its shape).
- Knead on a lightly floured board for 2-3 minutes until smooth and velvety.
- Form into a round loaf and place on a well-buttered sheet pan.
- Cut a cross on the top with a sharp, floured knife.
- Bake in a pre-heated, 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until the loaf is nicely browned. (It should sound hollow if you tap it on top.)
- The cross on top of the loaf will spread open as the bread bakes. It is the distinctive characteristic of Irish soda bread.
- Let the bread cool slightly on a rack before slicing it very thin.
Many Irish soda bread recipes call for raisins to be added. So, if you like, you can fold a cup of black or golden raisins into the batter as you are combining the dry and wet ingredients.
Any leftover bread can be toasted for breakfast. Lather it with sweet cream butter and orange marmalade. (You are celebrating, after all.)
I wish readers of TheBurg a happy and fun “St. Patty’s Day,” even if your green beer days are over!
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