[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread. ~M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
Pictured is a local Irish bread referred to as "wheaten bread." If wheaten bread has a cousin, it's "soda bread," easy-to-make, and easy to eat! A few weeks ago I was inspired to make something that I saw the Barefoot Contessa http://www.barefootcontessa.com/about.shtml make on the Food Network: Irish Soda Bread. Since then I have made six loafs with different takes on the classic. Ina’s Soda Bread has currents and orange zest which brings out a fresh sunshine taste to the bread, that’s the only way I can describe it.I’ve modified the loaf slightly since I didn’t have the fancy $300 blender that Ina was using on her show. I figured the Irish have probably been mixing by hand for centuries and hand mixing should work just fine. I found this recipe to be simple and fast and I’ve pasted it here with the modifications. This was my first attempt at baking from scratch and I’m very happy with the results. I’ve only done pre-fabbed cake mixes before from a box. In the last few weeks I’ve made the Ina Garten version (substituting dried blueberries for lack of dried currents) twice [loaves 1 & 2) to use up the leftover dried blueberries; then semi-sweet chocolate chip and tangelo zest bread [loaf 3] (for lack of oranges and because there’s a tangelo tree in the back yard); then double cheddar cheese soda bread [loaf 4] (Irish Cheddar and English Cheddar with chives, about a cup and a half total of cheese); then I went for a all chocolate chip loaf, again using semi-sweet chips this time Belgian chocolate [loaf 5] Yes, Belgian semi-sweet chocolate chips, Ralph’s Select. And finally, a plain version of the Irish Soda Bread [loaf 6], which is multifunctional since you can dress it either way: salty or sweet, as my Irish acquaintance pointed out. Her review after trying my first endeavors was “This is really, really good…” and after saying that a few more times added “it made me tear up…” I was inferring that she was tearing up in a good way, as in “I miss the home cooking of Ireland” tearing up. When the last verdict was pronounced (“You’re amazing!”) I bid a grateful “thank you,” and let it go at that. My Irish acquaintance recommended I also try Potato Brea and Wheaten Bread. I did make the Wheaten Bread--hence the picture--and the recipe was very similar to the soda bread, just substitute 2 cups of wheat flour in the recipe below [2 cups all purpose flour & 2 cups wheat flour], and you have your Wheaten Bread. This bread goes great with cheddar, eggs, bacon, ham, etc., like a breakfast sandwich or just add some fantastic marmalade. The wheaten bread is some of the best wheat bread of ever tasted.
IRISH SODA BREAD
• 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
• 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
• [optional: 1 teaspoon grated orange zest]
• [optional: 1 cup dried currants]
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl, mix with spatula by hand. Add the butter and mix until the butter is mixed into the flour.
With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup.
Mixing slowly by hand add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. [Optional: Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet and clumpy.]
Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.