No white smoke yet, but habemus Irish soda bread


They’ve closed the doors to what our 5-year-old calls “the Sixteen Chapel.”

All we can do is wait and pray for our cardinals and our new pope.

Still, we can do both of those things while baking Irish soda bread, and St. Patrick’s Day happens to be on Sunday.

And, as long as we can avoid producing smoke of any color in our kitchen, we will end up with a house full of the bread’s comforting aroma and a sweet warm loaf.

Here is the recipe my mother makes. I had thought it was some secret family recipe, but you can find it in Joy of Cooking. Last week our 3-year-old son and I joined two of our friends to bake a loaf together.

Irish Soda Bread

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together:

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. sugar

Cut 6 Tbsp. chilled butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (I just use two knives—and this time I handed them to the most excited preschoolers I could find), until it’s the consistency of coarse corn meal.

Stir in:

½ to 1 cup raisins

1 Tbsp. caraway seeds

Add gradually:

½ to ¾ cup buttermilk

The mixture should not be dry. Knead briefly and shape into a round loaf. Put the dough in a greased pan. Cut a bold cross on top, letting it go over the sides so the bread will not crack in baking. Brush the top with milk.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Our chefs, Daniel and his super friend, checked it a few times.

One of my college friends who sent me a link to her family recipe tells me that I should use a cast-iron pan for the best results, but I don’t happen to own a cast-iron pan. If you look closely at my friend’s recipe, you’ll see there’s an option to cover the bread in cinnamon sugar before baking. If I were an Irish soda bread purist, I might be appalled. But I’ve never met anything covered in cinnamon sugar that wasn’t totally decadent, so I’m keeping an open mind.

We baked our soda bread, and it took the full 50 minutes, and maybe a minute or two longer. Then we pulled out the steaming loaf and sliced it.

Was it good? Oh yes. ’Twas a little bit of heaven.

And, speaking of “A Little Bit of Heaven,” it’s only fair that I also treat you to a bit of the Irish music my sons are already tired of hearing.


Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.