Saturday, 16 March 2013

St. Patrick's Day Menu Part 2: Irish Cheddar Soda Bread

March 16, 2013

SmartCooks here.  

Irish Cheddar Soda Bread.  I think a roommate and I accidentally baked a soda bread about 40 years ago when we lived in a slum apartment on Charlotte Street in Ottawa in 2nd year university.  

I remember it was close to the end of the year (so maybe mid-March) and we both had no money with little food or staples in the apartment.  We somehow concocted a 'soda bread' with whatever was in the cupboards and enjoyed a meal of bread, cheese and cheap white wine (me) and beer (my roomie). Those were the days! 

I've never really attempted breads till now.  What led me to try this Irish Cheddar Soda Bread was forgetting to buy some Art-is-in bread to go with the Slow Cooker Irish Beef Stew.  So I trolled around some sites for quick breads and was overwhelmed at the choices. For try #1, I went basic with a Soda Bread with just some cheddar cheese in it. Later in the week I varied it by trying whole wheat flours and dried apricots and currants similar to the photos. The Cheddar Soda Bread won by a wide margin! 

Origins of Irish Soda Bread

Despite the name, Soda Bread apparently originated with the North American Indian communities, who used a natural (potash-based) soda to help make their breads rise.  The Irish are identified with soda bread probably as a result of their history as a poor country as soda bread uses the most basic of ingredients:  flour, baking soda, soured milk like buttermilk, and salt (aka my earlier university days).  

The 'X' cut into the top of the dough is also traditional, some say to ward off the devil, or as a symbol to mark Christian holidays, or, more practically, to make it easy to divide into four pieces.  Whatever the explanation ... it all comes together beautifully in a simple, easy bread to accompany an Irish stew so enjoy!

Irish Cheddar Soda Bread
(Makes 1 large loaf or divide into two smaller loaves)

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, diced
1½ cups cold buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup cheddar cheese (I used a 5-year old cheddar) 


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl. Add the diced butter and mix until all combined. (You can use an electric mixer with paddle attachment.  I whisked hard.)

Lightly beat buttermilk and egg. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Toss the diced cheese with a little bit of flour to lightly coat and stir into dough.

Put dough on a flat surface and knead lightly to bring it all together into a round loaf or divide into two round loaves. Place on parchment paper and cut a large, deep x on the loaf/loaves.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes.  Cool and serve. Lasts 2-3 days in the fridge.   

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