Grammy Donovan's Irish Soda Bread

Since I am not interested in being struck by a lightening bolt for sacrilege, I will not say I made this as well or better than my grammy, but it was very good. The recipe calls for serving it cold and it is traditionally served cold with butter, but I served it hot and it was well received by my friends Sam, Yele, their parents and their neighbors we had over to play.

In my family, the language we have spoken to express how we love each other has taken on many forms, many without words. My grammy is known for not mincing her words, but she speaks the language of love with her food. Hurt feelings have been known to dissipate from cakes baked from scratch and using family recipes, she seemed to make magic from the ingredients she could afford with her meager budget while raising her many children. Today she can afford jams, jellies, condiments and spices to heart’s content, but her sensibilities about cooking have remained the same. Her lesson, when dressing to cooking, is always splurge when it will make the most difference, and in this recipe, the big splurge purchase is real buttermilk. This recipe was actually passed down from her Mamma and in the dairy rich “North Country” of New York where my Grammy was raised, buttermilk was something which was actually affordable for her parents during her childhood. When she moved away from the area, she budgeted to afford this key ingredient for her own children to make this very special recipe.

This bread is traditionally baked during the season of St. Patrick’s Day, where people of Irish descent celebrate the good and bad they associate with being descendants of the Emerald Isle. It’s a. season which is filled with bagpipes, parades and step dancing, and the occasional wink beer. This season has always been so special to my family, and so I baked this recipe with some children who are very special to me who had no knowledge of the cultural celebrations around this holiday. I did this in an effort to educate them about a culture which was so important to me at their age and in which I recently celebrated this holiday in, with strangers and family. While making this recipe, with these children I consider family, I was reminded of how sometimes breaking bread with people, can sometimes seamlessly make us family.

This bread is rich, moist, and buttery, and despite what people say about Irish cooking, it is enjoyable for people from every walk of life. Traditional Irish soda bread has been made with whatever liquid was affordable and on hand for the bakers,, water, milk, butterfly and beer- but the buttermilk makes this recipe. Economic woes have hit the island of Ireland over and over again throughout the centuries, so the ability to make the most decadent version of this bread has not always been possible for Irish, but today it was luckily possible for me! The key to making sure it remains moist is to know your oven and not to overcook it. The egg wash step at the end is key to creating the decadent feeling crust, so don’t skimp on this part. My commitment to finding places for controlled moments of decadence in cooking motivated me to add 2 tbls more of butter to recipe and sprinkle sugar on top of egg washed loaf before I put it in the oven. Don’t tell my Grammy!

Plan of Attack

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Mix the flour, and remaining dry ingredients in your medium mixing bowl

Put the butter in your pastry blender and mix until it resembles crumbled butter pieces. Complete disclosure - Since I don’t have a pastry blender, I cut the butter (with my buddies Sam and Yelenia with a knife in a larger diced pieces and added them to the flour mixture. Use your hands to mix the butter pieces and flour together until they resemble crumbs. The crumbs will resemble streusel topping.

Beat your eggs with a fork until whipped and add almost all eggs to the mixture. Reserve about a tbls of eggs to use as as egg wash for the top of the loaf.

Add the buttermilk and raisins to the mixture and mix throughly. The dough will be sticky and in order to remove it from your bowl you will have to cover your hands with flour.

Cover your pastry board (or counter) with flour and knead the wet dough it with flour covered hands gently 9-11 times until it resembles a big boule of dough. This was the part my elementary school helpers thought was the most fun, aside from cracking the eggs.

Place the dough in a buttered casserole dish (the dish I used was 9x9) and and using a pastry brush, coat the top with the remaining egg mixture. Sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar and then use your knife to make 3-5 cross lines on the top of the loaf. Bake for in the oven for 80-90 minutes, and check midway to determine the heat of your oven. I took this loaf out at 81 minutes because the oven I was using runs hot, so use your best judgment when to remove from the oven. When I bake things with this level of history, I call my oven, the “loven.”