An Irish friend taught me the most important step to take when making Irish soda bread, the one technique that makes the bread different from any other quick bread. It is essential, she tells me, to score the top of the bread with the tip of a knife to let the fairies out. (Others suggest scoring helps the center of the bread cook more evenly.)
We may be at the point in the pandemic when many of us have lost interest in elaborate cooking projects and babysitting sourdough starters. Irish soda bread is just the cooking antidote — it is fast and easy with big bread payoff. Not only is soda bread lovely when it is warm and steaming out of the oven, but it is heavenly the next morning, toasted and slathered, preferably, with Irish butter. European butters are generally higher in fat, with makes them creamier and richer than American butters.
For the record, true Irish soda bread has less sugar than this Americanized version, and may or may not have caraway seeds and golden raisins. Like this version, it is traditionally made with whole wheat flour, which gives it a distinctive nutty and earthy flavor. This recipe, like many, combines whole wheat and all-purpose flour: the latter gives the bread a lighter texture. The fairies, I am told, like it better this way.
Irish soda bread
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a shallow baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Combine the two flours, sugar, baking soda, caraway seeds and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the raisins. Add the buttermilk and stir until a craggy dough forms. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough 6 to 7 times until it comes together. Form it into an 8-inch mounded round and transfer to the baking sheet. Use the tip of a knife to score a 1/2-inch-deep cross on the top of the dough.
3. Bake until the bread is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before slicing. Makes about 16 servings.