You know it’s the day of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day parade when the green people come out to play. They appear early in the morning, decked out in green beads, leprechaun hats, green face paint and even shamrock-shaped glasses. They carouse the streets from morning until well into the evening, feasting on green beer. Oh, and there’s also a parade that day, too.
Aside from the colored beer and the “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons, St. Patrick’s Day has long been associated with Irish soda bread, which is often eaten as tea bread with butter.
Soda bread is not considered a sweetbread; therefore, it pairs best with meats, stews, and chowders. It can be a nice accompaniment to traditional Irish dinners, such as corn beef and cabbage or lamb stew. Leftover soda bread can even be used in myriad ways: French toast, sandwich bread, bread pudding and croutons. An especially delicious sandwich is cream cheese and ham on toasted soda bread.
Soda bread is simple to make – everything you need is inexpensive and can be found in the supermarket baking goods aisle, possibly even in your cupboard at home. Below is a basic, traditional recipe that I’ve refined, based on my own whims and feedback from friends (who now request it every year).
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cup of buttermilk*
1 cup of raisins
2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
*You can make your own buttermilk for this recipe with regular milk. For every cup of room temperature whole milk, add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. Let the milk mixture sit for five minutes before using.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Lightly grease a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in the raisins and the caraway seeds. Add the buttermilk and stir the mixture until it forms a sticky ball of dough. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about a minute. With floured hands, shape into a round loaf and transfer to the lightly greased baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut a criss-cross pattern. Place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes at 425°F. Then, lower the heat to 350°F and continue baking for 20 minutes. When done, the top of the loaf should be golden and sound hollow when you tap it.
Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and let sit for 20 minutes, if you can wait that long.
(Bakers, take note: Some say the criss-cross pattern is there to supposedly ward off the devil. My people are from Cork, and we try to stay as far away from the devil, if at all possible.)
Incidentally, some like to enjoy their soda bread with traditional black Irish tea. Try a box of Barry’s Irish Teas from Ireland. Or brew your own black tea with loose leaves. I’ve found both for sale at Empire Coffee 338 Bloomfield St.