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The "real" Irish soda bread consists simply of Irish "wholemeal" flour (equivalent to a coarse grind of our American whole wheat flour), baking soda, salt and buttermilk. At the other end of the spectrum is Americanized Irish soda bread, a white, sweet, cake-like confection filled with raisins or currants and caraway seeds. The version we print here is much closer to traditional Irish bread than to its American cousin.
However, the addition of some bread flour, an egg, butter, a bit of sugar and some currants serve to lighten and tenderize this loaf just enough to make it attractive to most of us on this side of the ocean.
The craggy crust on this hearty, dense bread makes it somewhat tough to cut in thin slices; we suggest using a serrated knife to cut wedge-shaped pieces. A bit of butter or jam is a nice addition.
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour or King Arthur Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour (9 3/4 ounces)
1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (3 ounces) currants or raisins
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 1/3 cups (10 5/8 ounces) buttermilk
1 large egg
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and currants or raisins. Using a mixer, a pastry fork or blender, or your fingers, cut in the butter until itŐs evenly distributed and no large chunks remain.
In a separate bowl (or in a measuring cup) whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to combine. The dough will be stiff; if it's too crumbly to squeeze together, add another tablespoon or two of buttermilk.
Knead the dough a couple of times to make sure it's holding together, then shape it into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly, and place the loaf in a lightly greased 8- or 9-inch round cake pan, or in a similar pan; it won't spread much, so the pan doesn't have to be large. Use a sharp knife to cut a 1/2-inch deep cross, extending all the way to the edges, atop the loaf.
Bake the bread in a preheated 400°F oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until it's golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven, and brush the top with melted butter, if desired. Yield: about 12 servings.
Note: For a more authentic soda bread, use King Arthur’s Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour rather than white wheat flour.