Cast Iron Irish Soda Bread
Corned beef and cabbage is one of those meals I look forward to eating every year. But I always ask myself "why just once a year? I really should make this more often!" We were walking around our local grocery store over the weekend and they were sampling Irish soda bread and Kerrygold butter, a perfect side to the St. Patrick's Day meal. If you've never tried either, you're in for a treat! The butter is all natural and hormone-free, made from grass-fed cows. The recognizable golden color, creamy texture & hint of sweetness really make it stand apart from any other butters out there.
The bread has a denser texture than an Italian or French bread and is typically studded with raisins and caraway seeds. It can have a little sweetness depending on how much sugar is added. The allure of making this bread is that it can be made very quickly since there's no yeast used. The only leavening agent is the baking soda which interacts with buttermilk, causing the dough to rise. It's nearly foolproof, so I decided to give it a try for myself... after seeing the price tag. Delicious as the samples were, each one of the specialty items was a hefty $5! (I'm sorry, I cannot bring myself to spend $10 on bread and butter, no matter how Irish my ancestors were.)
Before leaving, I glanced at the package ingredient list and it was pretty basic. It was also very similar to the soda bread recipes in an Irish cookbook I had at home; various types of flour, baking soda, butter, buttermilk, sugar, salt, raisins and caraway seeds. Some of them were baked on a flat cookie sheet while others were placed in a bread loaf pan or cast iron skillet. The cooking temperature and times were different as well. I pretty much just took bits and pieces from each recipe I liked and with a little bit of Irish luck, it all worked out!
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1-2 Tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into cubes and using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles a course meal. In a large measuring cup, mix together the buttermilk and egg. Set aside. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and slowly pour in the liquid ingredients, raisins and seeds (if you're using them). Incorporate all the ingredients with a silicone spoon until just blended. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour (a tablespoon at a time) until it's easier to work with. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it together a few times with the palm of your hand until you are able to form a soft ball. Lightly grease the cast iron skillet with shortening. Place the dough ball into the skillet (seam sides down) and score an "X" into the top* with serrated bread knife (see photo below). Bake in the oven, uncovered, for approximately 40 minutes. If using the skillet, it may take a bit longer since the cast iron needs to warm up. If using a baking sheet or loaf pan, start checking around 30 to 35 minutes. You'll know the bread is done because the top will be a deep golden brown and it will sound hollow inside when you tap on it.
Let the bread cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. It can dry out quickly, so if you're not eating it the same day, wrap it in plastic clingwrap and store at room temperature for another day or two, at most. Slather with the delicious Irish butter or favorite jam.
*I was surprised to learn that cutting an "X" into the top of the bread is not merely for aesthetics. It helps the heat to get down into the dough, and the bread to rise properly. The slice should be about an inch deep.