Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Among the holidays outside of my family’s ethnic heritage but which we celebrate nonetheless with food, I’ve always been a bit wishy-washy with St. Patrick’s day. Don’t get me wrong, I love to celebrate the holiday with the rest of the Irish and non-Irish world on the streets and in the bars of Chicago (or Montreal, or New York). Corned beef and cabbage was just never really my thing. Actually, I’ve always quite liked the cabbage part, but I didn’t warm up to corned beef as much. My dad spends hours boiling the brisket and my brother loves it like green loves beer.
When I was younger I would sit there and pick all of the visible fat off of the corned beef, which was honestly disgusting – but my family is forced to love me so I was never too concerned.
This isn’t to say I don’t like corned beef at all, I much prefer it sandwiched between two pieces of bread with a ton of spicy mustard is all. In fact, on Sunday I kind of had a hankerin' for the stuff, but I wasn't going to set out to cook a giant hunk of meat with a trip on the horizon.
Aside from the corned beef and cabbage, my parents always come home with soda bread around St. Patrick's day. I would pick at it, slowly, until, sure enough I had eaten nearly the entire thing on my own. Cakey, crumbly, slightly sweet and rather dense, the stuff is just great. And so, with my St. Patrick’s Day celebrations taken care of on Saturday (though the effects were still being felt, surprise, surprise, for the rest of the weekend), and Mom and Dad a few hundred miles away, I set out to bake a loaf.
I looked at quite a few recipes, and they varied immensely, using anywhere from two to five cups of flour and two tablespoons to half a cup of butter. Being that it is now spring break and most of my friends have taken off already, I figured there was no need to bake anything with five cups of flour. So I settled on the recipe you see below, tweaking things ever so slightly. The recipe didn’t call for caraway seeds, but I absolutely needed them in there. They remind me of the pumpernickel bagels that I, unlike probably every other child in the city of New York, could not get enough of as a kid. I added the raisins because I felt like I should, since every soda bread I’ve ever eaten has had them in there. I don’t care much for raisins, but pretty much everyone else in the world does, so I figured if I was going to share this with anyone (which is still to be determined), they might appreciate that. The bread came out golden brown, incredibly moist, crumbly, but not impossible to cut a nice slice (though well all know that a hunk of it just tastes better than a slice) and just begging for a generous pat of butter.
Irish Soda Bread with Caraway and Raisins
Adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2005
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons plus two teaspoons sugar, plus more for dusting loaf
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ tablespoons butter, chilled, cubed
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup raisins
1 heaping tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an eight inch cake pan with butter or coat with nonstick spray.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk together. Add the butter and rub into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Slowly mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Mix in raisins and caraway seeds.
Lightly flour your hands and form the mixture into a ball. Place into the cake pan and press down to bring the ball closer to the edges of the pan (don’t worry, it won’t touch). Using a floured knife, cut an X in the center of the loaf, about ½ to 1 inch thick. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over the top of the loaf.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for ten minutes then turn out onto rack. Serve warm with butter and jam. This bread toasts up great, too.
Hope you all had a great St. Patrick’s Day!