Ireland is not a country known for its food, which is remarkably unfair. I was reading a novel a few weeks ago in which a man casually mentioned that his father was Italian and his mother was Irish — and thank God his father did the cooking.
(It was not a great book, overall. But I digress.)
Maybe it’s because it’s perceived as boring. People think Ireland and they think potatoes, corned beef, cabbage, and Bailey’s. Or they think England, which to many Americans means bland food with names like “Spotted Dick” and “mushy peas.”
The reality is a little more complex. Ireland, at least contemporary Ireland, has amazing salmon, lamb, and mollusks. I didn’t eat corned beef once while I was there. And when you’re in an Irish port city, it’s easy to see European influence (Spanish, French, a little Italian) on the cuisine as well.
But my favorite thing was the soda bread, a quintessentially Irish staple. I know what you’re thinking. The round bread with the raisins and other stuff in it is purely Irish-American. Irish “brown soda” is a dense, barely-risen loaf made mostly with whole wheat flour, oats, and wheat germ. Toasted and topped with Irish butter and maybe some jam, it’s absolutely the best bread in the entire universe.
Of all places, Cooking Light had the only legit soda bread recipe I’ve ever seen (here), and it is so easy. The keys are using a “light hand” to mix the batter at the end, and definitely not trying to sub in yogurt for the buttermilk, as I did the first time. Oh man, what a mess.
- 2½ cups whole-wheat flour
- ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ cup steel-cut oats (not rolled)
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. raw wheat germ
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 cups buttermilk (use low-fat if desired)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 340 degrees. Coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or lightly butter.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients and stir with a fork until blended. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk and egg. Add to flour mixture, and stir just until combined. The batter should be quite thick and lumpy, like a good muffin batter.
- Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Bake for one hour and ten minutes — but check early. A pick inserted in the center will come out clean when the bread is done. Invert bread onto a wire rack. Cool completely and serve with butter, jam or both; try to refrain from impromptu step-dancing.