TRADITIONAL IRISH SODA BREAD

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

In the fall of 2015, Mark and I toured Ireland with a group of friends and enjoyed a baking lesson at Donegal Manor. Sian Breslin was our delightful instructor.

Sian uses buttermilk, but for convenience sake, I use a mixture of milk and yogurt. Also, the flour here in the States has more gluten than that in Ireland, and so cornstarch helps soften it up. Finally, I decided to go the old-fashioned route of baking it in a Dutch oven, which is similar to the traditional bastible, but without a handle for hanging it over the fire.

  • TRADITIONAL IRISH SODA BREAD
  • Makes: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: Moderate
WHAT YOU NEED WHAT TO DO WHY
Position an oven rack just below center; preheat to 425°F “Convection” (verify with an oven thermometer). Ovens often run hot or cold, or preheat slowly.
16 ounces (3 1/5 cups) bleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Meanwhile, in a 3-quart bowl weigh flour; sift together remaining ingredients. Whisk and then make a well in the center. Weighing flour yields consistent results. Bleached flour has low gluten; cornstarch also promotes tenderness. Sifting leavening agents eliminates distasteful clumps.
1 cup cold whole milk
2/3 cup cold plain whole milk yogurt
In a 1-pint measuring cup, whisk together; pour into well. With a bamboo spoon, stir together just until there is no dry flour (1-2 minutes). It will form a very wet dough that sticks and stretches between your fingers. Do not over mix. Yogurt mixed with milk mimics buttermilk, adding the necessary acidity to react against the base baking soda, leavening the dough. Overmixing toughens dough through gluten development.
1/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour Heavily dust the workspace. With a flexible silicone spatula, scrape dough out over top. This dough is so sticky, a great amount of flour is required to keep it from sticking to the workspace.
With floured fingers, fold 10-15 times to shape into a 6-inch round. Roll to dust evenly with flour; flip smooth side up. The goal is to keep interior moist while creating an exterior that is firm enough to handle. An even dusting helps prevent unexpected splits in the crust as it expands in the oven.
1 teaspoon butter Butter the base of a 6-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Slip your fingers under the dough to transfer to the center. With a sharp knife, score a 1/2 inch deep cross, taking care to extend edge to edge. Cover and bake 30 minutes; uncover; continue baking until deep amber (12-15 minutes). Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cover with an inverted oversized container. Cool thoroughly before serving. In Ireland, the cross is to “ward off the devil”. I find it promotes oven expansion and helps control splits in the crust. Covering reduces dehydration.

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