(photo: Soda "Cake", Irish Soda Bread, Torta al Testo)
This time of year my Irish roots always always get the better of me and I find myself craving a pint of Guinness, beef stew, and Irish Soda Bread. It's one of those "expat" holidays that I have learned to just keep to myself. When I happily proclaim to my neighbors that it is indeed St. Patrick's Day, they look at me like I have three heads. When I go to the "pub" and order a Guinness, it comes out looking like a Coca-Cola.
Anyway, in my annual research of Irish Soda Bread recipes, this year I stumbled upon The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. Let me tell you, these people mean business! The site is full of interesting tidbits about the history of this controversial bread. Why is it controversial? Well, first of all, it is not supposed to be sweet! Any additives such as eggs, raisins, sugar, orange zest, whisky etc., and you no longer have Irish Soda Bread, you have Soda "Cake" (which is what I always made...)!
So what is the real Irish Soda Bread? Well, as it happens, it is not a far cry from Umbria's own Torta al Testo (obviously la torta is flat like a pizza, but the idea is the same). Flour, baking soda, salt... and because it is Ireland, a healthy dose of buttermilk instead of our ubiquitous olive oil. In the olden days it was cooked in a bastible pot (or dutch oven) with coals placed above and below the pot - just like the southern Umbrian version of Torta al Testo, Pizza sotto il Fuoco. Makes sense: 2 agricultural lands, covered in rolling green hills, both steeped in the traditions of peasant cooking....
Therefore, tonight I will feast on Irish Beef Stew with a nice stout and Irish Soda Bread. Tomorrow.... Spezzatino di Manzo (beef stew), a bottle of Torgiano Rosso and Torta al Testo. Salute!... or... Sláinte!
(photo: Irish Soda Bread and Torta al Testo with their respective cooking vessels.)
The REAL Irish Soda Bread recipe (from The Society for the Preservation of ISB):
4 cups of all purpose flour.
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
14 oz of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees. Lightly crease and flour a cake pan.
In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.
Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)
Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.
Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.