Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bread and Butter

There are few places that I've traveled to that are more magical than Ireland. My first visit was in 2001 while studying abroad in Cambridge, England. As much as I loved living in the UK, my roommates had to physically drag me onto the plane to leave my beloved Eire.

10 years later, I found myself touching down in Shannon, Ireland again. This time with my parents and the required age (*sigh*) to be able to rent a car and drive through the countryside on narrow, winding roads. The difference between my original visit and my visit last year? Rather than staying in budget hostels, my parents and I spent our chilly evenings among the comfort of bed and breakfasts. Besides the fluffy beds and occasional family pet, the best part of these stays were often the second part of their names... the breakfast.

Thanks to the magic of tripadvisor, we knew the specialties of each house prior to arrival and after having some pretty delicious Irish brown bread at Daly's House in Doolin, it remained to be seen whether our stay at Milestone House in Dingle could compare. Apparently proprietors, Michael and Barbara, know how to churn out some legendary brown bread. As we sipped on our coffee and enjoyed fresh rhubarb chutney, Michael carried out the bread with much pomp and circumstance. After a few bites, we soon devised plans for smuggling the bread out for our mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks later that day. Thank goodness for disposable napkins!

With St. Patrick's Day on the horizon and realizing that almost a full year has passed since my journey to Ireland, I decided that today was the day to test out a soda bread recipe. Although Michael and Barbara did email me their famous recipe and give pointers, my parents had a massive fail with the recipe. Rather than facing frustration, I turned to my trusty Cook's Illustrated cookbook. Because my cupboards are already full of too many one-dimensional ingredients and didn't need wheat germ added this week, I opted to go for white soda bread rather than brown. Who needs health when it's a holiday?

The results? A giant, pillowy buttermilk biscuit in the form of bread. Ah-mazing. Irish eyes must have been smiling.

Classic Irish Soda Bread
From The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted for brushing loaf
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Whisk together all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt together in large bowl.
  3. Add softened butter and use fingers to rub it into flour until incorporated completely.
  4. Make well in center of flour and add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.
  5. Work buttermilk into flour mixture using fork until dough comes together in large clumps and there is no dry flour in bottom of bowl, adding 1/4 cup more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all loose flour is just moistened. 
  6. Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and pat together to form 6-inch round; dough will be scrappy and uneven.
  7. Place dough in 12-inch cast-iron skillet (I put on cookie sheet). Score deep cross, about 5 inches long and 3/4 inch deep, on top of loaf and place in oven.
  8. Bake until nicely browned and knife inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. 
  9. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter.
  10. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. 

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