It being Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought it was a good a time as any to learn to make a traditional Irish Soda Bread. One might think this would be easy to learn to do. Au contraire, mon frere! Turns out there’s a huge, steaming controversy out there as to precisely what “traditional” Irish Soda Bread is.
Naturally, I did some research, looking in some cookbooks, hitting the web. I have to be honest; I found the arguments presented by the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread to be persuasive. (Not to mention hysterical.)
In any event, I worked out a rough consensus recipe. Flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk. My recipe looked like a very high hydration dough (14 oz. flour and 12 oz. buttermilk); sure enough, when initially mixed the dough was too sticky and sloppy to effectively work.
Because this is a chemically-leavened dough, rather than yeasted, I couldn’t just leave the dough to hydrate for a while and thus eventually be workable; you really need to get this sucker shaped and onto the baking stone pretty quick. It only took an extra tablespoon or two of flour to give me something I could work. The feel of the dough reminded me that overworking it would be a bad idea; it really felt like another 30 seconds of kneading would leave me with the same sticky mess I started with.
I’d been heating my baking stone for an hour. I popped open the door, scattered a very thin layer in the center, used a bench scraper to get the shaped and scored dough round off the counter, and laid it on the stone. 30 minutes later I had a beautifully domed round, with a nice golden color and an aroma way more complex than four ingredients (even given that one was buttermilk) had any right to exude.
(“Where’s the picture?” I hear you cry. I forgot to take one, and we had a party to attend, and I brought the bread and a big chunk of real imported Irish butter, and… nothing but crumbs. I’ll fix that real soon, honest.)