I've been making soda bread for as long as I've been baking. I still remember idly searching through my mother's recipe box and stumbling upon "Mary Cuthbert's Soda Bread." Mary was a neighbor of my grandparents: both sets--my parents grew up catty-corner to each other...awww. Mary's bread was a success the first time I made it and really delicious. My family gobbled it up immediately and then broke into rousing renditions of Danny Boy and The Fields of Athenry. Or something. When my mother mentioned to my grandmother that I had made it--and that it was good--my grandmother was amazed because "whenever she tried to make soda bread the only thing it was good for was throwing against a wall."
This Paddy's day I decided to try another recipe, one that, because it used whole wheat flour, is closer to the brown bread I ate and loved and miss in Ireland. This one is Mrs. O'Callaghan's (also a Mary, no joke) and is from the March issue of...you guessed it...Bon Appetit. The other reason I had for using this recipe is that the one from Mary Cuthbert has you turn the dough out into a cask-iron skillet in order to get the right shape. I, ashamedly, do not have a cask-iron skillet. (My birthday is October 4th, but I accept gifts year-round.)
The one from BA turned out pretty well, but it didn't really cook all the way through, even though my oven is really hot and I left it in for about 15 minutes more than the recommended baking time. I could eat the edges, however, and they were very good and pretty damn close to Irish Brown Bread. I'll definitely make it again, but next time I might try leaving it in for about an hour. One weird thing about the recipe is that it tells you to stir until the dough is "shaggy." I'm not sure what that means, but I think mine was more Scooby, or Scrappy.
For your baking pleasure, here are both the Irish-American Soda Bread (with raisins and caraway seeds) from Mary Cuthbert and the Irish Brown Bread from BA.
Mrs. O'Callaghan's Irish Brown Bread Bon Appetit March 2010
Nonstick vegetable oil spray 3 cups all purpose flour 3 cups whole wheat flour 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled margarine or butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 2 cups buttermilk preparation
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray heavy baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk both flours, sugar, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Add margarine and cut in until margarine is reduced to pea-size pieces. Add buttermilk; stir until shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until dough comes together, about 10 turns. Shape dough into 7-inch round. Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough.
Bake bread until deep brown and bottom sounds hollow when firmly tapped, about 40 minutes [check it at 40, but be prepared to keep going]. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.
Mary Cuthbert's Irish [American] Soda Bread
3 CUPS FLOUR 1 TSP BAKING SODA 1 TSP SALT 1 TB BAKING POWDER 3 TABLESPOON BUTTER, cut into 1/2 inch cubes 2/3 CUP SUGAR 1 CUP RAISINS OR LESS 13 OZ OF BUTTERMILK 3 EGGS 1 TB CARROWAY SEEDS
Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in large bowl. Using pastry cutter or your hands, blend in butter until the dough resembles corn meal. Add rest of ingredients and stir until a dough forms, adding more flour or buttermilk if necessary.
Turn out into cask-iron skillet, that has been greased with either butter or vegetable oil spray.