Irish Soda Bread: a reason to celebrate.

It is three weeks past Saint Patrick’s Day, there are three weeks of school left, and no reason to celebrate. Or is there? Fear not, my fellow school-mates. For this week I crafted in my kitchen a classical, simple Irish treat to accompany you during all-nighters, to add the finishing touch to any soup or stew, and to pair nicely with an Irish Cream Stout. So hold fast, study hard, and make a little leeway to bake a batch of Irish Soda Bread.

Ingredients:

·         3 cups whole-wheat flour (if you’re feeling especially unhealthy, you can substitute white.)

·         1 cup all-purpose flour

·         1 teaspoon of baking soda

·         1 tablespoon salt

·         ½ cup sugar (Personally I like ¼ brown, ¼ white sugar)

·         2 large eggs

·         1 ½ cups buttermilk

Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Preheat your oven to 375° F.

2.  Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to thoroughly blend.

3.  In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the eggs and buttermilk. Unless you usually keep buttermilk in your fridge (in which case you have my respect), chances are a little piece of your heart broke upon reading the ingredient list. You know you are a busy college student, and have no time (or money) to spend purchasing weird grocery items. Before you quit reading, know there is a simple trick to making buttermilk at home! All you need is milk and lemon juice or vinegar. The ratio is one tablespoon vinegar/lemon juice to one cup of milk.  Place the vinegar/lemon juice in a glass measuring cup or bowl; then pour the milk on top. Let stand for five minutes and voila! You just made buttermilk, you crazy chemist you. Furthermore, if two steps are too difficult, plain yogurt is also a fine substitute.

4.  Make a well in the dry ingredients, and slowly pour in the milk mixture. Stir thoroughly. The dough will need around five minutes of mixing, which qualifies as your arm workout for the week. It is important all the clumps are stirred out, and there isn’t any remaining at the bottom of the bowl.

5.  Butter and lightly flour a cooking sheet.

6.  Pour a small amount of milk into a bowl, and dip your spoon/spatula in it. Using your milk-ed utensil, gently scrape the dough onto the pan. Keep the spoon/spatula wet while shaping the dough into one or two round loaves. One loaf will take longer to bake, but end up with a crisper crust and more moist interior; two loaves will cook more thoroughly and have a softer crust. The milk stops the utensil from sticking and also gives the loaf a nice milk bath, which will make it shiny.

7.  Once the shaping is done, take a knife and cut a cross into the top of the loaf. Legend has it this practice wards off bad spirits and protects one’s household. Practically, it allows heat to penetrate the thickest part of the dough and lets the loaf expand as it rises in the oven. It is optional to sprinkle rolled oats on top of the dough, but that’s more for aesthetics (i.e., when you want to impress someone with this recipe.)

8.  Cook for around 30 minutes, but the bread often needs longer because of the density. I recommend cutting into it to check for doneness, as the usual “knock-on-bread” can be deceiving. If the bread is still doughy after 30 minutes, keep cooking in ten-minute increments until done.

The final product is fantastic-smelling and tasting. In fact, it even made my roommate who is procrastinating her graduate research presentation pause her four-hour marathon of the Walking Dead to come into the kitchen after a piece. It is wonderful served warm but great the next day as well. My favorite toppings are butter, honey and jam.