St. Patrick’s Day approaches, and thoughts turn to soda bread — and McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, obvs. But most relevantly for the purposes of this blog, soda bread. If you’re not into baking because you’re not a baking person, this might be the bread to convert you. No yeast. One mixing bowl. Not a whole lot of fuss.
The recipe that I turn to is adapted from a postcard sent to me by my then-boyfriend, a poet. He’d gone on a Joyce-themed exploration of Dublin to read Ulysses near famed landmarks, drink Guinness, and hope for inspiration to be absorbed via osmosis, presumably.
We pined for each other. And sent each other long letters filled with literary allusion. Maud Gonne and Yeats had nothing on us.
Anyway, this particular postcard was excessively whimsical. It featured a leprechaun standing at the very end of the rainbow, but instead of a pot of gold, he was holding up a “Traditional Soda Bread Recipe” on a Ye Olde parchment scroll. In many ways, it was a puzzle. Had someone taken the gold already, but felt moved to leave some token for the next adventurer? Was the soda bread really more valuable than a whole pot of gold? (It’s good, but it’s not. Don’t even worry about it.)
Even so, though not holding out a whole bunch of hope, I made the soda bread. And it was good! Studded with dried fruit, delicious toasted and spread with butter and jam. However, turns out, it was neither genuinely traditional nor Ye Olde at all. Actual traditional soda bread has just four ingredients: flour, soda, salt, and buttermilk. It’s bread born out of famine, steeped in meaning and tradition.
But this Nouveau Ersatz soda bread had an actual Irish postmark on it, so I decided that was close enough, and it’s what I make every year.
4 cups flour
4 tbsp sugar
1 level tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 stick cold butter, diced (as though you were making pastry)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup mixed dried cranberries and sultanas
optional 1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts / 1 tsp orange zest / pinch of cinnamon or ginger