By Wendy Ruopp, March 7, 2013 - 4:53pm
A few years ago we asked some of our favorite EatingWell contributors to share healthy breakfast recipes from their part of the world. Darina Allen—chef, cookbook author and director of the legendary Irish cooking school Ballymaloe in County Cork—sent us her recipe for Irish Soda Bread, with this letter:
“On Sunday morning I love to cook a huge Irish breakfast—rashers and sausage and some lovely fresh eggs from the “Palais de Poulets,” our swanky sounding but rather ordinary hen house here at Ballymaloe…. Perhaps best of all, the meal is completed with fresh-baked Irish soda bread.
“While the kettle of spring water on our ancient Aga cooker is coming to the boil, I start by measuring out some flour for the soda bread, then go to the pantry for the jug of thick buttermilk from our Jersey cow. The bread is mixed in seconds in the beamy plastic washing-up bowl we keep for the purpose.
“Even though I’ve been making bread all of my adult life and most of my childhood, I still get a buzz every time I mark the bread with the traditional cross blessing and prick it in the four quadrants to let the fairies out. (Otherwise, superstition has it, they will jinx your bread and it won’t rise!)
“The bread is often enriched with a little lump of butter, some sugar and a fistful of golden raisins. In this form it is called ‘spotted dog’ (the raisins representing the spots on a white dog). Traditionally, it was eaten warm, cut into thick slices, slathered with butter and taken out into the fields with bottles of sweet milky tea when the men were saving the hay or corn.
“Copious cups of freshly ground coffee or good strong tea are an integral part of any breakfast. An Irish breakfast is not something to just grab and gobble—one needs time to enjoy it in a leisurely way with family and friends around the kitchen table, a robust repast to launch you gently into an energetic day.”
Even if you wouldn’t have described your mixing bowl as “beamy,” this recipe for Irish Soda Bread is simplicity itself: it has a mere 5 ingredients for a dough that comes together with just a little kneading and is ready to go in the oven in 10 minutes. With half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, it’s got an impressive fiber profile, too: 3 grams of fiber per slice. Buttermilk, such a great ingredient to bake with, gives the bread an appealing tang without adding fat.
The soda bread bakes for about an hour, warming up your kitchen and making it smell delicious; let it cool for about half an hour, then you have a rustic, authentic-looking loaf you can be proud of that adds heartiness to breakfast, afternoon tea or an Irish-themed dinner. For something different, check out the variation for Irish Soda Bread Scones following the recipe below.
Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread
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Soda breads are hearty Irish staples—wholemeal flour with large flakes of bran and wheat germ, or white flour or a mixture leavened with baking soda and moistened with buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda, which is an alkali, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide which rise the bread. Soda breads have the heft of a yeast bread but are made in minutes and the dough can be shaped into scones or a round loaf, depending on the occasion. Originally it would have been baked in a bastible (pot oven) over the open fire.