Saint Patrick’s Day is by far the most fun holiday there is, in my opinion. I cannot think of anything I do not love about this holiday. From the shamrocks, to the leprechauns, and once-a-year traditional boiled meal of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes – I love it all. If you live in major cities where there are many people of Irish descendent like Chicago, New York, Savannah, Boston, Philadelphia, you may even get the novelty of green beer, green bagels, even green rivers and fountains (Chicago green river to pictured to the left; below Savannah fountain, and White House fountain both dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day)! Saint Patrick’s Day is a good way to bid farewell to winter and to jumpstart into spring with a meal that is decidedly hearty for winter and with the bright green color of spring all around.
Since Americans tend to commercialize most holidays, I could not help but think that we have commercialized Saint Patrick’s Day as well. What is worse, I love all the commercialism of this day. I like seeing people out and about drinking green beer and wearing green clothing, and the even the errant leprechaun costumes strolling down Miami Beach and Hollywood. I use to worry that my joy offended people of Irish descendent only to learn that in Ireland, the celebrations were bigger and more festive.
In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is an annual feast celebrating and honoring the priest who taught Christianity to the Irish people in 432 AD (with no assistance from the leprechaun). March 17th is a national, religious, and banking holiday in Ireland. Celebrations start in the morning by attending mass and they evolve into festive celebrations of food and drink all in honor of Saint Patrick. So, there is no harm in the celebrating – corned beef for everyone… and Irish Soda Bread too!
Irish soda bread, in all of it’s variations, is like much of traditional Irish food – simple, homey, and good. There is nothing pretentious about this bread. It does not rely on the fussiness of yeast or the proper temperature for rising. It does not require minutes of kneading until the dough is elastic and is able to “window pane.” There are not special proofing boxes or proofing time for that matter; and there is no steaming the oven for a crisp crust.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread is flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. To wit, there are variations that include butter, currants, nuts, oats, and sugar. The bread depends on the baking soda’s reaction to the lactic acid in the buttermilk to rise, expand, and give the characteristic dense texture. Irish Brown Soda Bread substitutes half of the white flour for whole-wheat flour and can incorporate brown sugar for a richer brown color and sweeter flavor. This version also has a salt optional policy. Irish Brown Soda Bread is my favorite variation… and as the luck of the Irish would have it, this is also the version featured in the March issue of Bon Appétit magazine. (Was that last line a bit too corny?)
Mrs. O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread
by Mary O’Callaghan
Bon Appétit magazine, March 2010
makes one loaf
• Nonstick vegetable oil spray
• 3 cups all purpose flour
• 3 cups whole wheat flour
• 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled margarine or butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
• 2 cups buttermilk
• Preheat oven to 425° degrees. Spray heavy baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk both flours, sugar, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Add margarine and cut in until margarine reduces to pea-size pieces. Add buttermilk; stir until shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface.
Knead until dough comes together, about 10 turns. Shape dough into 9-inch round (the round should be about 1 inch high). Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough, almost all the way to the edges of the round.
• Bake bread in center of oven until deep brown and bottom sounds hollow when firmly tapped (a bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the bread should emerge clean without any stickiness or moistness), about 55-60 minutes. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.
This bread can be used for breakfast toast or a quick snack with tea, customarliy served with lashings of rich, creamy and flavorful Irish butter and fruit preserves. Good Irish cheese would go well with this bread also.
Though I am certain it is right at home on the table celebrating the feast of Saint Patrick with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.
always in good T.A.S.T.E – cause you gottatastethis!
All pictures are mine with the exception of the Chicago green river, White House fountain, and Savannah fountain; the latter three were courtesy of Yahoo image search: credit to http://www.thesebootsaremadeforstalking.com, simcityaustin, and jackandjillpolitics.com