This may be rather late in the month to post, but a good recipe is still a good recipe, and soda bread doesn't necessarily need to be limited to the month of March. Any rainy day will do.
For some people in parts of the country spring may very well be a welcome thing, but we've had such a mild winter this year in California, in addition to having an abundance of sunshine the majority of the year any way, that I've been relishing the cloudy skies and bouts of rain that finally settled here over the last couple of weeks. Contrary to most people's feelings, I love this kind of weather, possibly because I don't get enough of it. Too much sunshine makes me grumpy, but an overcast day rarely fails to put me in a good mood. Strange, I know, but at least for cold weather, the rain is my limit. The native Californian in me puts a stop at snow. And really humid summers. We're spoiled out here.
Back to the important things: I know there are many supposedly "authentic" or "traditional" Irish soda bread recipes out there, a topic apparently hotly debated and fiercely defended in many comments sections on food sites and blogs, but I'm not so concerned about what is or what isn't truly traditional here. My concern is with a soda bread that tastes good and is relatively simple to make. That seems to me what should really be important, and if everyone has a recipe handed down the ancestral line from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, then they're all authentic in their own way.
According to Saveur, the source of this soda bread, the recipe was indeed handed down from a grandmother, written down from memory for the purpose of publication on Saveur's website, and that seems pretty authentic to me. It has raisins in it, which I liked, although that's not necessarily to everyone's taste, and an egg, which seemed highly unusual--I've never seen an egg called for in soda bread before--and the usual components of flour, a little sugar, salt, baking soda, cold butter, and buttermilk. The inclusion of the egg, whatever purpose it serves, may be odd, even blasphemous, for diehard traditionalists, but the resulting loaf was so, so good that I don't care whether or not an egg in soda bread may be considered heinous. A tasty loaf of bread is a tasty loaf of bread.
As far as the instructions go, they're pretty basic and only require one bowl: mix the dry ingredients, cut in some butter until it's all crumbly, toss in the raisins, and stir in the egg and buttermilk until a shaggy dough forms, knead it a little, form a round, and it's ready to bake. Cutting an X into the top and dusting the round with a bit of flour are the final touches. By the time it's baked and cooled, you'll be chomping at the bit to saw off a slice and slather it with butter. I should know. I've made the bread three times this past month. Soft and mildly sweet with a crunchy crust, it tastes what soda bread is supposed to taste like. Butter is optional, of course, but I'm of the mind that bread and butter go together.
The bread keeps fairly well for a few days, wrapped tightly in plastic, but after that it stales quickly. Leftovers make excellent toast.
Rain is still in the forecast about these parts over the next week or so, a good enough excuse to turn the oven on. A rainy day is always a good day for baking.
Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from saveur.com
Instead of kneading the dough on a floured surface and lining the baking sheet with parchment paper, as per the instructions, I floured the baking sheet and kneaded the dough on that to save a step and save myself from having to wash a cutting board. The leftover flour on the baking sheet was enough to lightly dust the round and also prevent the dough from sticking to the sheet.
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup raisins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ - 1¾ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter or two knifes, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal, then stir in the raisins.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixutre, pour the beaten egg and 1½ cups buttermilk into the well, and mix in with a wooden spoon until the dough is too stiff to stir, adding a little more buttermilk if the dough is too dry. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead the dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. The dough will be very sticky and soft. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf.
Transfer dough to the prepared baking sheet. Using a serrated knife, slash about a ½-inch deep "X" shape into the top of the dough, then dust the round with a little flour. Bake until bread is golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 40 minutes. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool briefly. Serve warm, with butter.