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By Susan S. Yeske
If you don’t have other plans for St. Patrick’s Day, you can still celebrate the day by making traditional dishes such as Irish stew, colcannon, shepherd’s pie, boxty or scones.
If those sound like too much trouble, you can make the easiest recipe of all: Irish soda bread.
With only four ingredients that don’t include yeast, it’s a simple bread that anyone can make.
A staple in Ireland since the 1830s, when baking soda became readily available, it proved to be a blessing for a country experiencing widespread famine. Bread needed to be made out of the most basic and cheapest ingredients available, and soda bread fit the bill. Made from soft wheat flour, salt, baking soda and sour milk (or buttermilk), it needed no yeast; the combination of baking soda and buttermilk provided the leavening agent, making the bread rise.
Soda bread bakes quickly and contains no preservatives, so it’s meant to be eaten soon after it’s baked. A plain bread, it is often enhanced with caraway seeds and raisins or currants. Either way, it’s easy to eat when slathered in butter.
Recipes are easy to find. This one from halfbakedharvest.com is a variation on the typical Irish soda bread, taking elements from recipes for beer bread. Beer takes the place of the traditional leavening and rye and wheat flours take the place of the traditional soft flour. It’s a hearty bread, but with more texture and a different flavor from the typical version. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Beer and Rye Irish Soda Bread
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
2 cups rye flour
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup stout beer, plus more if needed
1. Preheat the oven 400 to degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine the whole wheat flour, rye flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk and 1 cup of beer. Stir until the dough comes together into a ball. If the dough seems too dry add a splash more of beer. The dough should be slightly sticky.
3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and kneed into a rough ball or football shape. Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little flour and use a sharp knife to score a cross on the top of the dough.
4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the loaf has almost doubled in size and sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool a few minutes, slice and serve. Bread can be reheated or used for morning toast.