“You walk in the door and you know Irish soda bread is baking.”
That’s my mom, in her kitchen, getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day. She’s ready to bake Irish soda bread, as she has done every year since before I was born.
“It’s the buttermilk and the caraway seeds,” that give it such a distinctive smell, she said.
All the ingredients are laid out neatly on the counter. The buttermilk and egg are already beaten together, the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl with chunks of cold butter, ready to combine. It’s organized, like on a TV set, and she’s looking pleased with herself.
Mom is familiar with the routine. She’s cooked for TV crews in studios and in her own kitchens. Her recipes have shown up on product boxes, in cookbooks, and too many newspapers and magazines to count. She’s been to the Pillsbury Bake-Off, twice.
Even though she turned 90 in January, she’s ready to go. We take photos of the stuff she’s prepped, then she cuts the butter into the flour mixture, and adds the caraway seeds and raisins.
She makes a well in the coarse crumbs in the bowl and pours the buttermilk mixture into it. Then, she mixes until just combined.
“And that’s it,” she said.
“It’s sticky, but it’s supposed to be,” she said, as she turns the mixture onto the floured countertop. She sprinkles flour over the dough and kneads.
“Seven, eight, nine, ten,” I hear her count as she folds and presses the dough.
“Make it into a ball,” she instructed, turning the dough around and around and shaping it with her hands. She deposits it into a pie pan that’s greased and ready to go.
She takes her all-purpose kitchen scissors and cuts two gashes into the top of the dough to form a cross, about 3/4 inches deep. “You could do it with a knife but it’s easier with scissors,” she said, dipping the blades into a small bowl of flour as she works.
The beaten egg is brushed on; she’s careful to keep it out of the slashes. “You don’t want to put egg in the crack, you want it to open up.” She sprinkles Swedish pearl sugar over, just enough to make it look pretty.
It goes into the oven and I head out to run errands. When I return, the apartment is fragrant and the bread is ready. It’s a beautiful golden brown, the gashes prominent. “That’s why I cut it deep,” she said.
It’s moist, and the raisins are sweet. She’ll have a slice for breakfast every morning until it’s gone. I got half to take home with me. Talk about the luck of the Irish.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup white or dark raisins
3 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2 cup cold butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water for glaze
Sugar, for sprinkling over
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch pie pan.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in caraway seeds and raisins.
In another bowl or the measuring cup, mix together eggs and buttermilk. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add buttermilk mixture. Combine until just moistened. Dough will be sticky.
Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly 10 times. Shape into a ball. Place into greased pan. Cut a 4-inch X-shape 3/4 inches deep across the top of the dough. Brush with beaten egg mixture, sprinkle with sugar.
Cook at 350 degrees for one hour or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Turn out onto wire rack, cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf