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Our favorite way to eat soda bread is warm and slathered with cold, sweet butter. (Credit: Mary Lydon)

Traditional Irish Soda Bread consists of flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. That’s it.

The baking soda needs the acid of the buttermilk. But, over the years, baking powder replaced baking soda for many bakers, and the acid of the buttermilk was no longer required, although many still like it for the taste and texture.

The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread — no kidding — tells us: “The earliest reference to using soda ash in baking bread seems to be credited to American Indians using it to leaven their bread.” And, “The oldest reference to a published Soda Bread recipe, County Down, Ireland, Nov. 1836.”

There are endless versions, including white and brown (whole-wheat and molasses), with added raisins, candied orange peel and caraway seeds. Brown bread was initially more popular due to the price of white flour, and it grew in popularity because of the sweetness of the molasses.

Some are cooked on a sheet pan or in an iron frying pan. In Ireland, in the 19th and early 20th century, bread was usually cooked in a “bastible,” a flat-bottomed, cast-iron pot with a lid and sometimes legs. It was suitable for an open turf (or what we Yanks call “peat”) fire, often suspended above the fire. Used to bake bread, it was also used to cook other food, such as meat and poultry.

My version, cooked in a cast-iron frying pan, is third-generation from Cahirciveen in County Kerry. My grandmother added eggs to the original recipe. My Aunt Nora loved butter. I added my own embellishment — Irish whiskey-soaked raisins and currants.

Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp sweet butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cup raisins (mixed dark and golden)
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 cup Irish whiskey

Directions

  • Set oven at 375 degrees.
  • Butter and flour a 10-inch frying pan.
  • Soak the raisins and currants in the whiskey foran hour or so, or put in the microwave for 20 seconds until the fruit softensand plumps.
  • Sift together the first four ingredients.
  • Add melted butter to dry ingredients and mixuntil it resembles fine cornmeal.
  • Stir in beaten egg and milk (batter will be heavy).
  • Add the raisins and currants (whiskey and all) to batter and mix.
  • Sprinkle caraway seeds throughout batter.
  • Turnbatter into prepared pan and cut a deep cross into it with a sharp knife.(Tradition holds that the cross is a blessing before baking, and an indentationwith the tip of the knife in each quarter releases the fairies from cursing thebread.)
  • Checkthe oven in 30 minutes; turn oven down to 325, and bake 15-30 minutes moreuntil evenly brown. Take out and let cool in the pan. Alternatively, it can beeaten warm slathered with cold, sweet butter.

Slainté!

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