I learned all this from a website devoted to the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. (Can you believe it?) The site includes information that authentic Irish soda bread uses wheat flour, not white, and never has anything like raisins, currants or caraway seeds added. Me? I didn’t know that Irish soda bread didn’t have raisins in it! If the bread has raisins in it, it's a treat, and called "spotted dog."
I did wonder, though, about the typical cross. Epicurious.com interviewed Rory O’Connell, an Irish chef and cooking school teacher and asked him about the cross. He said that the cross has a scientific basis, because it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, aiding even cooking.
And since the cross resembles a crucifix, in a Catholic country, it has a symbolic meaning of crossing the breads and giving thanks. There was also the expression "to let the devil out of the bread," so it was slightly superstitious. Another benefit is that the cross shape makes the bread easy to break when it comes out of the oven. So there’s the blessing of the bread by putting the cross on it and then the symbolic breaking of the bread.
I just love that kind of food lore. Whatever the origin and whatever the “traditional” way to make it is, it’s a hearty, tasty bread.
My sister Lynn made soda bread over the weekend and gave me a loaf. Although she made this batch with white bread, she prefers the brown bread, using whole wheat flour. “And it’s just great toasted,” she added. “And spread with orange marmalade.” And lucky me, I just happen to have some in the pantry.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Irish Soda Bread
From Taste of Home, submitted by Gloria Warczak
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup raisins
In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and buttermilk. Stir in flour mixture just until moistened. Fold in raisins.
Knead on a floured surface for one minute. Shape into a round loaf; place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a ¼ inch cross in the top of the loaf. Beat remaining egg and brush over loaf.
Bake at 375 degrees or until golden brown. Yield: 6-8 servings