St Patrick’s Day

“What joyous Feasting winter brings, what benign satisfaction!  The senses purr with delight”—James Beard

As a cook, I love the winter with its appetite-increasing sharpness.  I tire of summer foods quickly and I often long for the cold days with bread in the oven and guests coming.  We are nearing the end of this mild winter, and it’s a perfect time to entertain in hearty style before you start having backyard barbeques.  St. Patrick’s Day gives us an excuse to really whoop it up.  Of course, you’ll want to stick to tradition and serve corned beef and cabbage and end with Irish coffee.  Or maybe you’re adventurous and want to try a dinner of lamb and champ (mashed potatoes with green onions and butter).

Either way, your dinner on St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be complete without Irish Soda Bread.

But what kind of soda bread?  There are as many variations of this Irish staple as there are cooks, or at least nearly.  Just to illustrate, owners of one of the Bed and Breakfasts in town give an annual St. Patrick’s Day Party featuring wonderful corned beef and cabbage, accompanied by soda bread.  One year the hosts asked some of the guests to bring a loaf of soda bread.  I had no idea there were so many ways to make it.  In her book, Land of Milk and Honey, author Brid Mahon quotes an English traveler in Ireland in 1600.  “In cities they have such bread as ours, mingled with aniseeds and baked like cake, and that only in houses of the better sort.”  Round cakes of soda bread rarely have seeds these days.  When they do, caraway is the seed of choice and then the finished product is called a seedy cake.  Other add-ins found in many cook books are cheese, raisins or currants.  Soda bread can be made from dark flour or white and whichever you traditionally bake, that’s the right way.

I dug up at least 5 different recipes for Irish Soda Bread and I am including two for you to try.  I invite anyone who has a different and “better” recipe to e-mail it to me.  Oh, and let me know which one of these you like best.

White Seedy Cake (Soda Bread)

3 and one-half cups flour
Three-fourths teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
One and one-half cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly flour baking sheet.  Mix flour, caraway seeds, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  Mix in enough buttermilk to form moist clumps.  Gather dough into ball.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until dough holds together, about one minute.  Shape dough into 6-inch by 2-inch round.  Place on baking sheet.  Cut 1-inch-deep X across top of bread, extending almost to edges.  Bake until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely on rack.

Cheese Soda Bread

4 cups flour
6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Three-fourths teaspoon baking soda
1-and-one half cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 1 and one-half quart, 3-inch-deep round baking dish.  Mix flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl.  Cut in better until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese.  Beat eggs to blend in bowl, reserve 1 tablespoon for glazing bread.  Blend buttermilk into beaten eggs.  Stir into flour mixture; dough will be sticky.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until blended 2 or 3 minutes.   Shape into round and fit into prepared dish.  Cut one-fourth inch deep cross in center of dough.  Brush with reserved egg.  Bake until tester inserted in center comes clean, about 75 minutes.  Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes.  Invert onto rack and cool.

And don’t forget that Irish coffee

One-fourth cup sugar
Hot black coffee
2 cups Irish whiskey
One-half cup (generous) whipped cream

Place one and one-half teaspoons sugar in each glass.  Stir in enough coffee to dissolve sugar.  Add one-fourth cup whiskey.  Fill to within 1 inch of rim with more coffee.  Top with whipped cream to float and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

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