Bet you thought Irish Soda Bread was just good food. It’s delicious but did you know that the “x” at the top of the bread can also ward off pesky mischief fairies? Legend has it that putting the “x” on top before baking “lets the mischief fairies out” so they won’t jinx your bread; that “x” brings good luck. The original reason was most likely that it helped the bread expand while baking and made it easier to slice the hard crust into four quarters after baking, but scaring away “mischief fairies” and ensuring good luck is certainly an added benefit! Something to think about while you’re enjoying a slice with butter or jam.
- Traditional Irish soda bread was baked in kitchens in cast iron pots called "bastibles" over open hearths rather than ovens. Offering freshly baked bread to your guests was considered a sign of respect. The Irish like to serve it with "lashings of butter." (now I know why I love butter so much, it's the Irish in me!)
- The original recipe called for sour milk (the acid in sour milk mixed with baking soda would cause the bread to rise without yeast). Buttermilk has replaced sour milk in modern recipes.
- Although versions of soda breads can be found in many cultures (it did not originate in Ireland), it became popular in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1800s because it could be easily made with few ingredients and was filling. Today, soda bread is often most associated with Ireland.
- Another legend has it that Irish farmers' wives would wrap loaves of soda bread sometimes filled with fruit and/or whiskey and take them to those working in the fields, along with sweetened tea (or methinks something a tad bit stronger than just tea!).
One day I may explore why "mischief fairies" are bothering bread (hungry? bored?) but for now, here's a simple recipe I used when I made Irish soda bread. And don't forget the "x" on top or "mischief fairies" may visit!
|Fairy Rings and Toadstools, Richard Doyle 1875 (image in public domain from wikiart)
After all that dancing those hungry fairies may be looking for your soda bread!
Irish Soda Bread
Easy to make, no yeast. This is the traditional recipe using just four ingredients.
- 4 cups flour (any all-purpose flour or gluten-free alternative)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk (suggest 1% buttermilk for lighter texture since it’s a dense bread)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.
- Slowly stir in the buttermilk, mixing until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball (dough will be a little sticky). If dough crumbles, add up to ½ cup more of the buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together.
- Place dough on a lightly-floured board. Dust hands with a little flour and lightly knead to shape into a somewhat round but flattened loaf (similar to the shape in my photo of the baked bread). Don’t overprocess, just shape, a light touch works best.
- Transfer loaf to the baking sheet. Using a small, sharp knife, make a deep X in the top of the dough (about ½ inch deep). If desired, brush top of loaf with melted butter or margarine.
- Bake at 425 degrees for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until top of loaf is a golden brown. (I found that 40 minutes worked well for me, but ovens vary so you’ll know when it’s done by the golden brown color.)
- For a slightly sweet flavor, add a cup of raisins to the dough. This non-traditional version is called "Spotted Dog."
- Make biscuits by breaking off equal portions of the dough and placing in a muffin tin (don't fill to the top, leave room to rise). Toss some raisins in the dough and you have "Spotted Pups."