Monday, March 16, 2009

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Back in my early days of teaching, I worked with a wonderful lady who was of Irish descent (and appropriately named Pat). Pat was a very young sixty, with cropped gray hair, sparkling eyes and girlish dimples. St. Patrick's Day was one of her favorite holidays, of course, and she filled the classroom with artwork and projects inspired by the Old Country. Our class would dance along with Michael Flatley to the energetic tunes of Riverdance, read all sorts of books about St. Patrick and other Irish lore, make tissue paper rainbows and sugar cube castles. The day before Saint Paddy's Day, the children would make an elaborate leprechaun trap, trying to catch those mischievous elves so they could find their pot of gold. But each year, when the kids returned to school, the leprechauns had evaded capture and made a mess of the classroom. Fortunately, they always left a trail of green footprints that led to a chocolate gold coin treasure.

In addition to all the fun and games, Pat made sure that her students had a taste of Ireland, baking her Irish Soda Bread in a cast iron skillet. When I saw how she made it, complete with raisins (or currants) and caraway seeds, I was certain that the children wouldn't eat it. But they surprised me with their willingness to try something new. I think it was because they had a hand in mixing and patting the dough...and the fact that it was spread thickly with Irish salty butter didn't hurt either. Soda bread is like a large scone or biscuit, but leavened only by the acid and alkaline combination of buttermilk and baking soda. Whether or not her recipe (with raisins and caraway) is truly Irish, or rather an Americanized version is up for debate--but it is delicious nonetheless. It should be crisp on the exterior and tender inside, and it makes a splendid breakfast when toasted for a bit in the oven and smeared guessed it...Irish salty butter. It tastes better the next day, so make it ahead if possible.

Irish Soda Bread

4 C flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 C buttermilk
1 C raisins or currants
1 T caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8 inch cast iron skillet or cake pan. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds, then add the buttermilk and stir with a fork, just until the dough holds together. Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 30 seconds, then pat into an 8 inch round. Make an x-shaped slash, 1/4 inch deep, across the surface and place the formed dough into the pan. Bake for approximately 40-50 minutes or until it is nicely browned and the x has spread open. Transfer to a rack to cool, then wrap in a slightly damp towel and let it rest on the rack for another 8 hours. Soda bread is better and much easier to slice when cooled completely, but we could never don't worry too much about that. It keeps well for several days, if it lasts that long.


Anonymous said...

Yum - Irish Soda Bread - my very favorite. Thanks for sharing your recipe. I so miss the soda bread, carried almost year 'round at the Whole Foods in Santa Monica and Brentwood...

Happy St Patrick's Day to you and your (partly) Irish family!

Marie Maher Penny. said...

I am going to make this for my family this evening it is the same as the bread my mother made in Ireland when I was a child. We called it spotted dog and excitement built when we smelt it baking to have it with the butter melting on it and home made strawberry jam and piping hot tea..Oh! the memories.Happy St. Patrick's Day one and all from a Tipperary native.