Monday, June 18, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

My father is an engineer.  This means that when I'm giving him directions and I say: "So, you're heading up the highway towards the mall," he'll get really angry and say, "do you mean Route 36 NORTH?"  Even when I'm giving him directions locally, heaven forbid I say, "turn left at the McDonald's."  No, he wants to know if he's heading NORTHWEST or SOUTHWEST and the name of the street.  And is it an interstate, state, or local highway?
However, when it comes to food he has a curious blindness.  If he tells me he's watching his calories, so he's eating All Bran, and I ask him how much cereal he puts in a bowl, he assures me that no matter how much cereal or milk he pours, it is always 110 calories or so a serving, or whatever it says on the box for 'one bowl.'  Ditto with olive oil--if he pours half the bottle in a bowl and uses a loaf of bread to eat the oil, it doesn't matter how much he eats because olive oil is "good for the heart."  The same is true for wine. It's good for you, so you can consume it in unlimited quantities.

I still think this recipe would drive my father crazy, because the amount of flour you use per loaf may vary slightly.  Because he's not much of a sweet person but he loves raisins I decided to make him an Irish soda bread for Father's Day.  I realize there is some weird, passive-aggressive Oedipal stuff going on, because my father is Greek and mother was raised Irish, but let's bracket that for now.

I used this recipe for an Americanized Irish soda bread and 'made it my own.' Like the original it requires a bit of imprecise 'feel' to get the dough right, but when you do it's wonderful and it doesn't have that dry texture that plagues bad soda breads so often, the kind you need a half a stick of butter to choke down.  It also keeps more than a day, unlike many soda breads which harden up so quickly you can't even make French toast out of them.

I do have to note that my father called me to thank me but said he found the bread confusing. "I ate it for breakfast but I'm not sure I was supposed to do that."  Kind of like how they react to the bundt cake in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  I leave the kneading of the dough and the timing of when to serve the bread to you, dear readers.  You'll figure it out.


Mary's Rye Irish Soda Bread

2 cups of rye flour
2 cups of all-purpose flour (PLUS 1+ cups for kneeding)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons softened butter (1/2 a stick)
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cherries
1 large  beaten egg
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (Make sure to use buttermilk or 'make' buttermilk by adding white vinegar to milk, since the acid is necessary to react with the baking soda.)


1. Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet or a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment. (I used a baking sheet, but when I make this a third time--I've made it twice--I would use a cake pan for a more precise-looking loaf).

2. Sift 2 cups of rye and 2 cups of all-purpose flour together. Add sugar, salt, and baking soda.  Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter, two knives, or just use your fingers.  Add dried fruit.

3. Mix milk and egg together.  Form a well in the flour mixture, slowly add into the middle of the depression.  Mix lightly with a wooden spoon.  If mixture is too wet, add extra all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl, slightly and has the consistency of cookie dough, not muffin batter.

4. Dust hands with flour.  Knead VERY LIGHTLY to form a round ball. Score with an 'X marks the spot.'  This is necessary to cook the bread through the center.

5. Bake for 35-45 minutes.  Bread is done when a skewer can be inserted through the center and when you can lightly 'tap' on the firm, brown crust.  Thoroughly cool before slicing.


  1. It used to irritate my dad when I would say, "put in the clutch," because obviously what I meant to say what "let out the clutch." I still don't even know.

    I like these dense breads that have fruit in them. They're a little like the much maligned fruitcake, but more virtuous.

  2. My father and I are constantly driving eachother crazy. Unfortunately we both love to argue and we look for opportunities to draw the other in. My mother hates it :).
    This looks like a midnight snack kind of bread, something you don't bother with formality or slicing, just grab a hunk and chew :). That's my kind of bread (or anything really :)).

  3. @Flurrious--one of the reasons I don't drive a stick shift has to do with the fear of learning how to do so on my father's precious Toyota Supra! And yes, this is a bit like a virtuous fruitcake, with only a small amount of butter and lowfat buttermilk...

    @Adam--the ease of making this bread and the lack of precision is precisely what makes it so perfect as a midnight snack! It's also a wonderful vehicle for butter, peanut butter, honey...whatever craving may strike...

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