Holidays with kids are generally pretty fun. However I have learned that if a holiday doesn’t involve presents, cake or candy, the kids have a hard time getting excited about it. I kind of tend to agree, but being that I am half-Irish (making my children 1 quarter Irish), I feel that we should at least attempt to honor St. Patrick’s Day. Hubs, who is 100% Sicilian, may not concur, but this holy day only comes around once a year.
The one thing that we are settled on is that all holidays should be celebrated with food. I am still working through the Valentine’s Day candy that my mom sent the kids, and pretty soon we’ll be rationing out jelly beans and chocolate eggs for Easter, so I really don’t need any more sweets lying around. I’m also pretty sure that no one in my family would get too excited over corned beef and cabbage. So, I decided that the boys and I should make some Irish Soda Bread.
Now, I think that what comes to mind for most people when they hear “Irish Soda Bread” is a sort of dry bun-type concoction with raisins that can’t decide whether or not it wants to be a scone or a dinner roll. Sound familiar? Well, this is NOT that type of soda bread, it’s more of an Irish Brown Bread, and it’s simple, rustic and delicious. This is the bread that I equate with my very favorite place in Boston – Matt Murphy’s Public House in Brookline Village. I have heard that this place has recently gone the way of many wonderful establishments and has been redesigned as an overpriced gastropub – to shame! But I will choose to remember it as a neighborhood treasure with uncomfortable church pews that you might have to share with strangers and a bathroom that doubled as the kitchen’s utility closet. That was all part of the charm. But like all treasures, someone was bound to track it down, clean it up and ruin it’s secret magic forever.
Anyway, today the boys and I got pretty messy and put together this lovely recipe courtesy of Matt Murphy himself. And this year I will forgo the green beer and giant leprechaun hats, the crowds and the corned beef. Then I will wait until my children are peacefully sleeping, and I will break out my brown bread, some nice aged cheddar, open up a crisp, malty lager and I will quietly toast St. Patrick, Matt Murphy and the Emerald Isle herself. Sláinte!
Matt Murphy’s Soda Bread
* A note about making bread. There are basically 2 kinds of bread you can make: those WITH yeast, and those WITHOUT yeast. When you are making a yeast bread (like a baguette or fluffy dinner rolls), you want the texture to be chewy so you knead the dough to work up the gluten in the wheat. The yeast then makes the dough rise which gives it the fluffy texture. For non-yeast, or ‘quick breads’, you DO NOT want to work up the gluten. The absence of yeast means that if you over-knead the dough you will end up with a bread that is tough. Work this dough as little as possible and you will get the soft texture you want.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup wheat bran
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 1/3 cups buttermilk
- Extra all-purpose flour (for sprinkling)
- Set the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly flour a baking sheet (I use a cast iron skillet sometimes). You could also use a silpat.
- In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Add the buttermilk and stir gently until just combined; the mixture will be very sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently shape it into an oblong disk. Lift the dough carefully and bend the sides of the dough back, causing the top of the disk to break open and look crackly. Set it on the floured baking sheet.
- Cut an X or straight line into the dough, about 1/2 inch deep. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Bake the bread for 40-45 minutes or until it’s brown and the bread sounds hollow wen rapped no the bottom with your knuckles.
- Cool the bread on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.