I have to admit I indulged in one of my obsessions recently. When I moved to New Jersey I fell in love with the Irish Soda Bread I found at Shoprite. I never had it before, but loved its soft, comforting texture; maybe it was the Irish in me finally coming through. It’s unbelievably addictive! After finally conquering my cravings and gaining the ability to walk past the bakery section without picking up a loaf of freshly baked goodness, I decided to give baking one myself a whirl when I found a recipe online for a whole wheat version. It’s incredibly simple – whisk together:
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Then you just add 2 1/4 cups buttermilk (I used reduced fat), stir until combined, shape into a ball, and bake on a Silpat for 20 minutes at 450F and 30-35 minutes 400F. Easy! And it looked like a healthier alternative to the white and somewhat fluffy and sweet (more dense than fluffy, really) version from Shoprite. Well, I decided that the 2-lb loaf the recipe makes would be too big for me – okay, really I thought making a smaller loaf would safeguard me from instant consumption – so I split the recipe in half. The only problem was, I forgot to reduce the baking time! I followed the instructions to remove the loaf when knocking on a quadrant produced a hollow sound, but unfortunately I over-baked the loaf, not knowing that my knock would have sounded hollow many minutes earlier as well. While some people might actually like bread like that, I don’t like a browned outer crusts – actually, I don’t like any crusts
at all – nor a chewy and slightly dried out interior. It looked lovely and tasted good with some plugra unsalted butter, but it was just too dry for me. I was planning on baking a second loaf at a lower temperature and for less time when it hit me the next day that I forgot the reduce the baking time!
So, loaf two was also a half recipe, but I cooked it at 425F for 14 minutes and 400F for just shy of 10 minutes. I was really afraid to over-bake it again, but this time swung a bit too far on the pendulum and ended up with the center just barely moist – literally, just barely, and completely edible, thankfully. I think the second baking time needs to be 12 minutes. Alternatively, I suppose I could bake the whole thing at 400F for 25-30 minutes and completely eliminate any semblance of a crust (a la Shoprite’s loaf). Possibilities for loaf 3! At least this loaf was still soft – and equally addicting to any other I’ve had. The color was very pleasing and overall the loaf had an appealing rustic appearance. More unsalted butter and either Morello cherry preserves or mom’s tomato jam compliment the bread fantastically.
Some further alterations would be to reduce the salt a bit to 3/4 teaspoon per 2-lb loaf; I feel like the buttermilk provides enough salty tang. I did some hunting around for other plain Irish Soda Bread recipes and found some that contain sugar and butter, in the ratio of 1 Tbsp and 2 Tbsp per 2 cups of flour, respectively, and both cut into the flour mixture. I’d be willing to try at least to add a bit of sugar to sweeten the dough and/or balance the salty taste – without going too far and making the bread taste like a scone (which is what Shoprite’s Irish Soda Bread tastes like, come to think of it…). In fact, I perused some traditional scone recipes for comparison and found they are basically the same as the Irish Soda Bread recipes, all containing more sugar, butter, and an egg, plus occasionally a bit of baking powder as well as extras like currants, vanilla, orange zest, etc. Good to know this recipe is a strong basic! Finally, I think when I bake this again I might play with the ratios of wheat and white flours. I’m not terribly fond of the taste of my wheat flour – even though it’s King Arthur, go figure – but I don’t want to necessarily go all white. I’ve considered using half wheat and half cake flour, but don’t know if that will make too fluffy a loaf and ruin the hearty aspect that Irish Soda Bread has. Maybe using half cake and half all-purpose is a good trick for fluffy scones or biscuits. All in all, this was a great baking experiment, and – sadly – a new path for my indulgence!