Our family's journey to the heart of a handmade life

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread
Summer is visiting us again today, which is a nice change from our recent gloomy weather. I actually turned on the heat one day last week!
Yesterday, I planted a few tulips and hydrangeas in some nice resin whiskey barrels that I found at Home Depot for only $7 apiece. I’m going to leave them out until the weather gets too cold, and then move the barrels into the basement. Tulips actually require cold temperatures “to form roots and to active the embryo inside the bulb,” so if you live in a very warm climate that doesn’t experience low temperatures, you would need to refrigerate the bulbs for a few weeks before planting. I learned this from my new favorite book, The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey, which I will surely be referencing often; these women truly know their stuff.  It’s a marvelous book that is well-organized and refreshingly informal. Generally speaking, I have not been blessed with a green thumb. But next spring, I am quite intent on creating a big garden. And although I do have nearly five acres of land to work with, I decided to make my first go at it a little simpler. Container gardening offers a lot of protection from the setbacks of a traditional garden, such as pests and weeds. I don’t have much of a plan yet, but I will be sure to document it here once I do.
An apple basket we found at the end of our driveway. I’m going to line it and use it as a planter!
A few days ago, I bought a gallon of milk while at the grocery store. When I got home, I realized I still had half a gallon in the fridge, nearly a third full. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, since there was not enough room for both jugs, I needed to use up the old stuff quickly. This recipe for Irish Soda Bread with Raisins, or Spotted Dog, requires two and half cups of buttermilk. Problem solved! It also happens to be moist, tender, and almost intolerably delicious. Toasted, slathered with a bit of good butter, and served with a hot cuppa tea, it is unbeatable. This recipe makes two loaves; I keep one out to eat and freeze the other, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Defrosted at room temperature, you would never know it was frozen. This bread also has the lesser known quality of making a husband swoon.
Recipe courtesy Brother Rick Curry, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, HaperPerennial, 1995
Yields 2 loaves
5 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour

3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 1/2 cups mixed light and dark raisins, soaked in water for 15 to 20 minutes and drained
3 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (or 2 1/2c milk mixed with 2 1/2 tbl vinegar and left to sit for 5 minutes)
1 large egg, slightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter 2 (9 by 5-inch) bread pans.
Stir together the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter and mix very thoroughly with your hands until it gets grainy. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.
Add the buttermilk and egg to the flour mixture. Stir until well moistened. Shape dough into 2 loaves and place in the pans.
Bake for 1 hour. Test with a toothpick for doneness. Cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.