Make soda bread at home

Soda bread has become a staple of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. But the tradition of Irish soda bread is a relatively recent one, especially when considering the extensive history of Irish culture.

In the 1800s, yeast breads were practically unheard of in rural Ireland. Yeast bread took a while to make and the results were not consistent to make it a worthwhile venture for many households. Instead, people began experimenting with baking soda as a leavening agent. Not only was it a quick way to produce the aeration necessary for bread, the results also were more consistent than using yeast.

The first soda breads featured only a few basic ingredients in addition to the baking soda, including salt, buttermilk and flour. The bread was served often with fresh, churned butter. It is a recent change to the recipe to include other flavoring agents, like sugar, currants, caraway seeds, and raisins.

Although soda bread can be easily purchased at a bakery or supermarket, it’s more traditional to try to bake it at home. Here is a recipe for “Irish Soda Bread With Raisins,” courtesy of Epicurious.com.

Irish Soda Bread With Raisins

(Makes 1 loaf)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2 cups all purpose flour

5 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes

1 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray an 8-inch-diameter cake pan with nonstick spray.

Whisk flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using your fingertips, rub in until coarse meal forms. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk, gradually stirring dry ingredients into the milk to blend. Mix in the raisins.

Using floured hands, shape dough into a ball. Transfer to the prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to the edges of the pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake bread until brown and when the tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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