Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hide your raisins...

...and don't even think about zesting those oranges! Did you know there is a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread? They take their soda bread seriously!

If your "soda bread" has raisins, it's not "soda bread! It's called "Spotted Dog" or "Railway Cake"! If it contains raisins, eggs, baking powder, sugar or shortening, it's called "cake", not "bread." All are tasty, but not traditional Irish Soda Bread!

Would "French Bread" (15th century) still be "French Bread" if whiskey, raisins, or other random ingredients were added to the mix? Would Jewish Matzo (unleavened bread) used to remember the passage of the Israelites out of Egypt still be Matzo if we add raisins, butter, sugar, eggs, and even orange zest? So why is traditional "Irish Soda Bread" (19th century) turned into a dessert and labeled "Traditional Irish Soda Bread?" OK, maybe you don't like the analogy, but you get the point!
And their history:

It shocks some people to learn that St. Patrick wasn't holding a slice of Irish Soda Bread in one hand while he drove the snakes out of Ireland with the other. Soda bread came long after St. Patrick in the mid 1840's when bicarbonate of soda (Bread Soda) as a leavening agent was used in Ireland to work with the "soft" wheat grown there.
The other shock to Irish-Americans is that their Irish ancestors who left Ireland during the Famine years did not bring a recipe for Irish Soda Bread with them. Irish soda bread became popular in Ireland after the Famine years. If your Irish ancestors had the good sense to leave Ireland for America during the Famine years, they never learned about making soda bread in Ireland.
Poke around there and you will find some interesting tidbits, a lot of history, a wee bit of Irish ire but most importantly, some really good recipes. We made the white bread yesterday and even though I did not have cake flour or a dutch oven, it turned out really good! But please don't tell THEM!



    I was lectured by my 10 yr. old boy on this very subject, yesterday! "g" and I were making soda bread from his Irish cookbook...

    What??!!?? No raisins? No currants? C'mon..."G"...the kids aren't going to eat plain bread!

    Mom...soda bread doesn't have that stuff in it!

    Well it does today!

    Thanks for the laugh, Charlotte!

  2. Well, don't I feel sheepish? Baaaa!

    Since I'm breakfasting on my Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway Seeds as "we speak," I must say I prefer my recipe. But then, I'm not a drop Irish!

  3. I have to say that after falling in love with the real thing in Ireland, I have been frustrated for years in searching for a recipe that will yield something that tastes like what I remember. I have this same problem with scones too. I have yet to find a scone on this side of the Atlantic that tastes even remotely like the scones I got at various youth hostels (yeah at one hostel I was presented with a plate of scones upon checking in, gotta love that Irish hospitality!) and bakeries in Ireland.

    I even tried recipes from one of my Irish roommate's cookbooks (and by Irish I mean she lived the first twelve years of her life in Dundalk). They still weren't quite right. I think our flour is somehow different. Or maybe it's the butter....

  4. Not that there's anything wrong with the raisins and caraway versions (except that I don't really like either raisins or caraway). I like fusion foods and innovative cooking. But I also enjoy finding the authentic versions of dishes too. Sometimes I prefer one, sometimes the other. Often I like Tex-Mex better than authentic Mexican.

  5. Melanie,
    If you read what they have to say over at the site I linked to you will see that you are right. Irish wheat is a "soft wheat" which is more similar to our cake or pastry flour, not our regular flour or bread flour. You might want to give these soda bread recipes a try. They tasted pretty authentic to me but I was only in Ireland for a day or so. Also, the dutch oven (or inverted cake pan) is essential!

  6. Your bread looked yummy--my oldest dd made an Irish dinner for us all last night but she even said that her bread wasn't real Irish Soda Bread because it had sugar in it--she called it Irish Soda Cake...:) I was just glad that it was yummy and I didn't have to make it...though the clean-up I was left to do was NOT fun! Teens do not clean up as they cook. ;)

  7. You got me. I didn't click through to look at the recipes.

    Using cake flour would definitely explain how to get the white bread right.

    I've also been stuck on what the difference is between Irish brown breads and the versions I've tried to make. I'm sure it must be something similar with a different sort of flour.

    I've had the "right sort" of brown bread in a couple of Irish pubs here in the Boston area. I should have asked them about it. Even buying stone ground wheat didn't make it come out the same. I wonder if I could find an import store that brought in Irish flour?

    I didn't find anything about that on the soda bread website. I'll keep looking, though. Because Irish brown bread is one of my favorite things in the world.

  8. That is so interesting, and makes sense!! Thanks for the links!

    Your bread turned out absolutely beautiful... I need to really work on my bread baking abilities! ;)

  9. I'm so excited to hear about the "no-raisins"! I don't like raisins and when I made my Irish Sodda Bread without I got quite a bit of flack for it! Thanks for posting the truth:-)


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