Irish Soda Bread

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irish soda bread
Let me just say that I have no Irish ancestry, and I therefore have no particular affinity for Saint Patrick’s Day. My Swedish grandmother used to send me St Patrick’s Day cards, and I wore green as a kid (purely self-preservation), but I am a Viking from top to bottom. If you thought I was Irish, you probably knew me in college when I’d use anything as an excuse to party.

I try not to get caught up in the hoopla, but I cannot help making Corned Beef and Soda Bread this week. For one thing, it is expected of me. For another, they’re pretty good foods which, I am sad to say, are all but forgotten the rest of the year.

I hate to be among the pack of food writers offering Soda Bread recipes this week, but I actually love this recipe.   I used to teach this during the cut-in lesson when I worked at the big schools. It is an often forgotten member of that family, overshadowed by stuck-up scones and primadonna pie dough.

I like this classic version with caraway and raisins, but it’s also fun to create your own. The salty crumb is offset nicely by a hint of sweetness. Try some other dried fruits such as dates, Armagnac soaked prunes, or chunks of ripe banana. I also love to add fresh herbs, which are currently plentiful in the backyard. Try rosemary and raisin, thyme and lemon zest, or sage with some candied ginger. Better yet, come up with your own flavor combination. (Looking for ideas? The Complete Idiots Guide to Spices and Herbs … by me … has a list of great flavor pairs.)

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup good Irish whiskey
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons caraway seeds, toasted, cooled and ground
3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, and diced into small cubes
1-3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons milk

METHOD

  1. In a small bowl combine whiskey and raisins. Add hot water until raisins are submerged. Let stand overnight, or at least 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, toast caraway in a dry skillet until just fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Remove immediately from pan and cool, then grind and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to aerate. Add butter and cut-in until the mixture resembles a course meal. Mix in drained raisins and caraway.
  4. Whisk together buttermilk and honey. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in buttermilk. Stir to moisten, then turn dough out onto a well floured work surface. Using a plastic scraper or rubber spatula, fold the dough over onto itself 6-8 times. (This is NOT kneading, but more like gently compacting the ingredients.)
  5. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Form dough into one round loaf and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush generously with milk, then cut an “x” in the top of the dough to facilitate the dough’s expansion. Let the dough stand for 10 minutes before baking. (This gives the dry ingredients a chance to absorb all the moisture, which lets the leavening work to full potential, in turn making the bread a little lighter.) Bake for 35-45 minutes until the crust is a deep golden brown, and the loaf sounds hollow inside when thumped. Cool a little, then lob off a piece and slather it with butter.

leprechan

Easter Kulich

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hughkulich
I am ready for Easter. I have the Peeps, the Cadbury Eggs, and the Star Wars Egg Dying Kit. Seriously, if you happen to pass by a Star Wars Egg Dying Kit how can you NOT buy it?

Next on the list is the Kulich. No one in the family is Russian, but my boss at Zola’s in SF asked me to make it once 20 years ago and I fell in love with it. Who could resist bread with saffron, rum, dried fruits, nuts, and citrus zest? Not me.

Bread is a symbolic, holy food in many cultures, and it is not uncommon to see the addition of eggs both in the dough, or baked into the loaves still in their shell. We see eggs at Easter (not usually decorated with Star Wars stickers) because the egg is an ancient symbol of re-birth and spring. Eggs are also a food traditionally forbidden during Lent. Even today, orthodox communities abstain from all animal products during this holy time of year, then let loose on Easter and make up for lack of these foods in one fell swoop.

This Russian Easter bread is tall and regal, and is commonly served with Pashka, a molded sweet cheese studded with still more fruits. If you are short on #10 cans, bake this dough in two traditional loaf pans.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup milk, warmed
2-3 threads saffron
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
4 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/4 cup skin-on almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup candied citrus zest
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
4-6 cups bread flour
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

METHOD

  1. Combine raisins and rum and set aside to plump overnight.
  2. Combine warmed milk and saffron, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add sugar, yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Add soaked raisins and liquid, egg yolks, butter, salt, vanilla bean, almonds, candied zest, grated zest (reserve juice), and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
  4. Use a church key can opener to make three holes in the bottom of a #10 can. Coat the can with pan spray, and line the sides with a cylinder of parchment paper. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and shape into an oblong loaf. Place end-first into prepared can, cover loosely with plastic, and set aside to proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  5. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 45-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, remove loaf from the can, and cool completely on a rack.
  6. Combine powdered sugar with lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and beat until smooth and creamy. Add more sugar or a touch of water as needed. Drizzle icing onto the top of the cooling loaf, and let it drip down the sides. Decorate the top of the iced loaf as they do in the Baltics, with candied fruits.
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