"Why the heck haven't I made this before?" I ask myself as I take the first bite. This is like a scone, a muffin, and a piece of sandwich bread all in one bite. It's so soft and crumbly and so sweet but not sweet at all - like a savory muffin, but a little dryer. "This is really good" I think, as I take another bite. I think I could continue taking bites until this whole loaf disappears.
I made this today, prompted by my unexpected day off, a huge pot of butternut squash soup wailing for a sidekick, and an email from Mark's mother (who reads this site) mentioning that she was going to make Irish Soda Bread this week. She's very holiday-oriented... you should see her collection of Christmas sweaters. (Hi Joan!) I'm not Irish, and not so into this holiday, but I am American. Although sometimes I claim to be a bit more European, especially when I'm particularly irked by the size of a particular Chrysler "mine is bigger than yours" Expedition that blew past me on my bicycle the other day. I'm one of those people who believes the streets should be rebuilt no wider than a Smart Car, with dedicated bicycle lanes on each side. Soccer moms, I apologize, but if you think you really need that much space for little 50 pound Jimmy and his one other 45 pound teammate, then maybe you can buy two Smart Cars and make yourself a little train. Modular vehicles - it can't be that tough, people.
So to relieve my curiosity on this little loaf (that may actually rival the Smart Car in both size and ingenuity), I of course turn to my Joy of Cooking and flip in the index to 'Bread'. Not there. Oh, I know it's here somewhere... so I flip to 'Quick Bread' and there it is, much to my relief. I'm not just relieved it's there, but relieved it's 'Quick'. I'm hungry. The bike ride in the cold Seattle rain will do it to you every time.
The chatter at the beginning of the recipe mentions that this bread is in the American category due to its raisins, caraway seeds, and sweetness that Irish soda bread wouldn't know what to do with. Us Americans always add sugar to everything! Because I'm the kind to question whether or not the earth revolves around the sun, I questioned why I needed all that stuff in this recipe anyway. But seeing as how I hadn't ever made this bread before, I didn't want to deviate to the point that I couldn't get the Soda Bread picture, ya know? So I reduced the 2 tablespoons of sugar to 1, left out the caraway, and put a few raisins on top for good measure. I also used a combination of soymilk and yogurt (half and half for each) for the buttermilk. I also subbed in some olive oil for the butter. The loaf came out so tender and flaky, probably because I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose... oops, I guess I have to add that to the list too. So maybe we'll call this bread 'Crunchy Hippy in Seattle Soda Bread'.
Instead of scoring a large X in the top before baking, just score a large peace sign.
Irish American Soda Bread
8 servings (1 round loaf)
1 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
1/3 cup soymilk or milk of choice
1/3 cup plain yogurt (or 2/3 cup buttermilk, total)
4 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
raisins to top loaf
In a large bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients well. In a separate small bowl, beat together egg, milk, yogurt and olive oil. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir until just incorporated. The batter will be wet and sticky. Scrape the batter onto a baking sheet into a big round lump. Top the mound of batter with some raisins, and then with a knife score a large X into the top of the loaf. Put into a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Let cool and remove from baking sheet. Top with some salted butter and let your toes curl up next to the fireplace.