Soda bread has long been a staple in Ireland. It’s also been a staple at many of my family meals. The bread I typically eat is not the same bread I savored on my trip to Ireland. After my trip I realized there are two distinct versions of soda bread: traditional Irish and the sweeter American style. The traditional style has four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. The American style has eggs, butter, and sugar along with raisins and other flavorings. This recipe is an American style version. I, as always, like to sweeten things up a bit.
After deciding to make an American style bread I needed to figure out how to bake it. According to my research, most recipes call for you to transfer the dough to a prepared baking sheet, mound it into an 8-inch round loaf and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife. Cutting the cross allows the heat to penetrate the bread which helps the bread expand while baking.
I used a prepared baking sheet for my first batch. As you can see, it didn’t exactly turn out as expected.
The bread did not rise the way I wanted it to. I also was concerned that it was too brown. I used dark brown sugar instead of white sugar which is typical in recipes that call for “brown” bread but that was not what I imagined my bread to look like. I also did not use xanthan gum in my first batch. You could taste the difference. The bread was a bit chewy. I shifted gears and decided to add some xanthan gum, switch to white sugar and bake it in a cast-iron pot. As you can see from the pictures below, baking the loaf in a cast-iron pot produced a perfect loaf. It had a crisp crust and a soft interior.
Many bakers will tell you that the bread is best served immediately after baking. I wholeheartedly agree but while I did enjoy it fresh out of the oven I also found it to be just as tasty over the next couple of days when it was lightly toasted. Fresh or toasted, I tend to slather it with butter but it also tastes great when it is served with a dollop of jam or alongside your meal.
I’m squeezing in a few pictures from my trip to Inis Mor, which is the largest of the three Aran Islands. We had lunch at Bayview Restaurant. As you can see from the picture below, there a few slices of soda bread with my meal. The bread accompanied most of the meals we had there. It was glorious. As I mentioned before, in preparing for my trip, most people told me that Ireland was not a country you travel to for the food. I disagree. I enjoyed almost every meal I had. They serve hearty comfort food. Lots of soups, meats and veggies. Basically everything that I love. Look at this gorgeous salad I had at Bayview Restaurant. How could anyone suggest that their food is anything but tasty?
Of course my post would not be complete without at least one scenic picture right? This is my favorite picture from Inis Mor. I snapped this not far from the restaurant. Truly breathtaking.
Okay so back to the recipe. My second batch was picture perfect. The cast-iron pot supported the bread while it was rising to give it a nice round shape. Cutting the cross into the bread clearly helped it expand into an attractive loaf. I usually hand out my creations to friends and family because I don’t want to keep something so tempting in the house. I admit this was one of my creations I hoarded all to myself. It was too good to share. I have trouble sharing. I’m working on it. I promise I will make this again and learn to share it for everyone to enjoy.