This year, St. Patrick’s Day falls on possibly the most inopportune of days…Wednesday. That’s right—you’ll have to postpone your Celtic-themed festivities by at least a few more days. While many like to mark this holiday by drinking a green beer or meeting up with their friends at the local Irish pub, the primary tradition in my family has taken place in the kitchen.
Irish Soda Bread from a Three-Century Woman
I’m full-Irish on my mom’s side and half on my dad’s, so nearly every cultural custom my family adheres to—be it culinary, religious, or otherwise—has come from the Emerald Isle.
My paternal ancestors emigrated to the U.S. from Cork, but I can’t pin down a specific year for when that occurred. On the other hand, I know much more about my mom’s side: her maternal grandmother, Mary Ann McGrath of Clifden, was granted entry through Ellis Island in 1920. She later married Walter Henry, himself an export from Sligo, and became known to her dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren as “Grandma Henry.” Grandma Henry held the rare distinction of being a three-century woman—born in 1898 and passing away at the ripe old age of 104 in 2003 (her secret for longevity was a touch of Jameson in her morning coffee, but I didn’t tell you that). Her other claim to fame was a recipe for Irish soda bread that was published in Family Circle in 1997—the same one that I’ve been given the familial blessing to share with you all now.
While I’ve been lucky enough to eat this bread for years, I’ll admit that I’d never made it myself before last weekend. The staple of almost every family gathering was always cooked by either my grandma, my mom, or any one of her three sisters. Anyone can do it, but it does require a certain level of patience (that I myself can be short on sometimes) in order to perfect it.
Recipe for Traditional Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour, with 1 additional tablespoon for dusting
- ½ cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon of salt
- 3 cups of dark seedless raisins
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 ¼ cups of buttermilk
- 1 cup of sour cream
- Prep for 15 min, Bake for 65-75 min
- Heat oven to 350 degrees (15 min). Grease 9″ circular baking pan.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins in a large bowl. In a separate small bowl, blend the eggs, sour cream, and buttermilk together. Pour the small bowl into the flour mixture in the large bowl and stir until the flour is moist.
- Knead the dough in a bowl for about 10-15 strokes – the dough should be sticky. Place the dough into a circular baking pan. Cut an X – about ¾ in deep, 4 in across – in the dough. Sprinkle the dusting of 1 tablespoon of flour on the dough.
- Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 65-75 min. After removing, cool for 10 min in pan. Remove from pan onto cutting board.
And voila! You’ve got yourself a soda bread recipe that was invented in the Old Country and mastered in the new one. Full disclosure—you don’t have to wear an Irish sweater while baking this, but I do recommend throwing on something green to get you in the proper frame of mind.
Sidenote: This bread has to be topped with butter—ideally slightly melted.
Wine Pairing: Irish Soda Bread and Bubbly
Additionally, no self-respecting soda bread can be served without a proper drink pairing; and I’m sorry, Gaelic purists, but it won’t be Guinness or Bailey’s. This recipe goes especially well with sparkling wine. For this particular batch, I chose the Domaine Carneros 2016 Brut. This wine is a product of the Carneros vineyard in Napa Valley, and is comprised of 51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris. On the tasting end, it has notes of honeycomb, lemon curd, and key lime on the palate.
While it is sad that the centerpiece of most St. Patrick’s Day festivities—gatherings with family and friends—still won’t be feasible for most of us, that doesn’t mean that the spirit of the holiday has to be diminished. I plan on whipping up another batch of soda bread and meeting up with by mom’s side via Zoom. However you choose to celebrate this holiday in a strange and confusing time, be sure to raise a glass and remember this Gaelic saying: “Dá fhada an lá tagann an tráthnóna” —No matter how bad things are, they will end. Sláinte!