Irish Soda Bread

First of all, this apparently is NOT traditional Irish Soda Bread.  According to the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, the traditional one does not have raisins in it.  Well, we can agree on that score.  The one I love to make doesn’t have raisins either — it has sultanas — also known as golden raisins.

Back in March of 2009, when we were having book group, I wanted a recipe to take to Joan’s house to compliment the fresh-squeezed orange juice she had promised to serve for refreshments.  And, because it was March.  And when we in America think March, we think green, Ireland, shamrocks, and corned beef and cabbage.  Of, if you’re like me, See’s Irish Potatoes, as well.  Now, with this recipe, you can think “Irish Soda Bread.” Modified slightly from one published in Bon Appetit Magazine.

You’ll need a sturdy 10-inch baking pan; I use a springform pan.  It will fill that all the way.

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) REAL butter, chilled when cut into small cubes, then left out to come to room temperature (if you are having a hot day, maybe leave it in the fridge)
2 cups golden raisins (also known as sultanas; you can buy them at Trader Joe’s)
2 Tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350F.  Generously butter heavy 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 to 2 1/2-sides.  In large mixing bowl, blend first five ingredients to blend well.  Add cubes of butter; mix only until they become coated with flour and are about pea-size (NO MORE!).  Stir in sultanas and caraway seeds.  In a separate bowl, whisk egg and buttermilk together to blend.  Add to dough.  Mix briefly, just until dry is thoroughly moistened.  You may have some dry ingredients in the bottom of your mixing bowl, use a wooden spoon to stir in the dry ingredients thoroughly.  A light touch on the mixing yields a tender loaf.  Go easy.

Turn dough into the prepared pan, smoothing top and rounding slightly in center.  If desired, dip a small sharp knife in flour and cut a 1-inch deep X in the top center of the dough.

Bake until the break is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Cool bread in pan for ten minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.  To serve, slice into 3/4″ slices, across the loaf.  This is really good spread with butter (and a little bit of jam if you want, but I’m sure that’s not Irish, either).  For book group, I carted it over there warm, and we gobbled it down accompanied by sweet orange juice, freshly squeezed from Joan’s own orange trees.

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.


Pumpkin Nut Bread

I found this recipe in a (Sunset?)  magazine when I was 17, and since I was a pretty good baker by that time, I decided to make it for my family.  I used up a good amount of nuts, real butter and got to talking on the phone with a friend while I mixed up the rest and put it in the oven.  The smell was really yummy and we were all looking forward to a slice of my newest recipe.  I pulled it out of the oven, and what?  Something was wrong.  It was flat, and hadn’t raised at all.  It tasted. . . terrible.  My mother came in and started to try and help me find the source of the problem.  Did you put in the salt?  Salt? I said.  I don’t think so.
Okay, then what about the baking powder?  Baking soda?  They need to sugar to help with their chemical and culinary reactions, she said.
Sugar!  I’d forgotten the sugar.  And probably one of the other three ingredients, judging from the height of the loaf.

Since then I have made it many many times. I never talk on the phone while mixing up the ingredients, and it has turned out perfectly every time.  You can increase the batch easily as one large can of pumpkin makes three loaves.  Tonight I made a plain loaf, a nut loaf and a loaf with mini-chocolate chips (add in about 1 cup).  We have family coming and we’ll be ready.

Pumpkin Nut Bread
3/4 cup milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter
2 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour (I substituted in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for part of this)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon each soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon each salt and ground ginger
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts or filberts or a mix of all three
[for the chocolate chip loaf, substitute 1 cup mini-chocoate chips for the nuts]

In a large mixing bowl, combine milk, pumpkin, egg and melted butter.  Mix to combine.  Add in sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour with spices, soda, salt and baking powder.  Mix well and add to the pumpkin mixture.  Then add in the rest of the flour and blend only until dry ingredients are moistened.

Pour into a lightly greased 5″ x 9″ load pan; bake in a moderate oven (350F) for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Makes 1 loaf.