Irish soda bread signifies March and spring to me just as much as daffodils and birthday cake. My mom has always made it in March, usually to have at our birthday party, and somehow it feels not quite right to make it at other times. Even now, living in California, where things seem perpetually in season, I find myself avoiding strawberries through winter. I look forward to strawberry season and have no desire to ruin strawberry memories with a pale pink imposter in February. March is Irish soda bread season in my turning of the world. My mom has always used my aunt’s recipe for Irish soda bread, and with my aunt’s permission, that’s the one I’m posted here, though I’ve expounded a bit on the original “mix, knead, bake” instructions.
The question of caraway seeds is a charged one that has become part of family lore. For a brief period, my mom would make one loaf with caraway seeds to enjoy herself, and another, far less controversial, caraway seed-free loaf for the rest of us. I can perfectly conjure up an image of another aunt proclaiming “but they get stuck in your teeth!” with exasperation when pressed on an aversion to caraway seeds. In much the same way that children can proclaim an absolute aversion for Brussels sprouts without ever tasting them, I’ve always avoided caraway seeds.
I’m completely in favor of trying new foods or re-trying previously detested foods again. Every few months I buy a bell pepper and try to cook it in an inoffensive way. I so desperately want to like bell peppers. They come in so many pretty colors that would add so much by way of presentation to so many dishes. Each time I try them though, I find the taste so overpowering that all the other flavors are completely drowned out, but still, I want to like them. That said, I have no problem leaving out the caraway seeds here. I have no strong feelings about the taste of caraway seeds; they simply don’t belong in my Irish bread. They are included as an optional ingredient in the recipe below because they belong in Auntie Deb’s Irish bread. And they may belong in yours.
Auntie Deb’s Irish Soda Bread
Auntie Deb and Uncle Bob are the best kind of family; the kind you adopt yourself because biology and fate weren’t smart enough to include them in your family originally. They embody the Irish gift of gab and bring the party with them to every gathering. Bring this soda bread to a St. Patrick’s Day party, or pour yourself a Guinness and celebrate with a few slices on your own.
- 2 cups flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 3 tablespoons cold butter (straight from the fridge)
- 2/3 cup raisins
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and caraway seeds.
- Cut the three tablespoons of butter into tiny cubes and add these to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or a cork to cut the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles a coarse meal and no large pieces of butter remain obviously visible.
- Add the raisins and the buttermilk to the mixture in the bowl.
- Mix thoroughly until a slightly wet ball of dough forms.
- Flour hands and knead on lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and no longer tacky.
- Shape in a ball, place in an 8” round greased cake pan (I used a well seasoned cast iron skillet)
- Cut a deep cross into the dough, and brush the top of the loaf with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake in preheated 350 degree oven about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top of the loaf is golden.
- Cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes before cutting into the bread (or else be prepared to deal with the loaf dissolving into crumbs!)