Every St. Patrick's Day that I can remember, my mom has baked Irish soda bread. One corner of the kitchen counter is dedicated to a pile of loaves. My mom keeps two and distributes the rest to family and friends.
The recipe she uses is from her mother, my grandma Perron, from whom she learned the tradition; my grandma acquired the recipe from her Irish friend. I imagine there are thousands of variations of Irish soda bread, but this is the one that I compare to every other. If it doesn't taste like the one I grew up with, it's simply not right.
My grandma passed away more than a decade ago, but my mom has kept the Irish soda bread tradition alive. She reserves a loaf especially for my grandpa, who has always enjoyed being on the receiving end of the bread baking ritual.
Living more than a quick drive away from my parents since college began, I haven't eaten Irish soda bread more than a couple times in the last 10 years. I miss it. I decided this was the year I was going to try it on my own. My mom walked me through the recipe over the phone, and I was able to produce two nice loaves.
Grandma Perron's Irish Soda Bread
4 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
1 cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
Cornmeal, as needed
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a parchment-lined baking sheet with cooking spray (or—I haven't done it this way but I imagine it would work nicely—a 10-inch cast iron skillet).
2. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, place mixture in the bowl and crumble in butter; combine until it looks like coarse bread crumbs. Mix in drained raisins and caraway seeds. Add buttermilk and mix until the dough barely comes together (it will be sticky and look shaggy). If over-kneaded, the bread will be tough.
3. Lightly sprinkle the baking sheet or skillet with cornmeal. If desired (the method I chose), divide dough in half, mold into 5-inch rounds and place on separate baking sheets. Score dough with an "X" to prevent cracking.
4. Bake 1 hour for one loaf, 40-45 minutes for two loaves, or until cake tester inserted in the middle of either comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with Irish butter (or whatever butter you have). Be sure to store at room temperature in a resealable plastic bag because it will dry out.
Of course, my mom has the bread down to a science. She texted me a picture of her perfectly brown loaves and I became instantly jealous. I imagine it will take practice—not to mention my Manhattan oven isn't good for much.
I feel the luck of the Irish that I'm part Irish.