Irish Soda Bread - Joanna Hart

     I know it's quite a few days from St. Patrick's Day, but this bread is so good, I figured you may want the recipe in advance.  This is a must-make.  In college, when I went out with friends to a local brewery, I sometimes would just order soda bread because it was so wonderful!  Now I can make my own!  This bread is great with soup and salad, but could also be a breakfast bread because it is mildly sweet.  I've made this bread several times and always get wonderful results.  The buttermilk is a key and I recommend brushing the loaf with a bit of melted butter as it bakes so it gets a nice and crispy crust.  You can throw in raisins or currants if you have them, but this bread is good plain, too.  I can easily say this is my favorite bread ever.

Irish Soda Bread
(makes 1 HUGE loaf--you can make a smaller one if you just cut this in half)

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted (you can use less, since this will just be brushed on the bread)
1/4 cup buttermilk (you can also use less of this, too)
optional:  1/2 cup raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 30 to 50 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.

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