I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I’m back now! Settling into a new job and new kittens has been an adventure, but I’m back in the saddle. And I bring you… Irish soda bread!

Half-Price Books had a Labor Day sale last weekend, and (never one to turn down a cheap book) Handsome braved the throngs of deal-seekers while I was at work to emerge victorious with Irish Food & Cooking, a beautiful book that details the history of Irish cuisine. For example, did you know that Irish cheese is quite a recent thing, and has only been popular for the last thirty or so years? (Do you care?) It also describes the standard Irish kitchen and meal, the cuts of meat most frequently used, the methods of preparation. It’s a great introduction to traditional Irish cuisine.

Which isn’t to say that “traditional Irish cuisine” is something I have spent much time yearning to know more about. Handsome has been on a whiskey kick lately, and is therefore enamored with all things Irish and Scottish. Also, we are experiencing quite the deluge thanks to Hurricane Hermine, which begs for some stout, warm Irish food.

I can’t quite bring myself to tackle the various ways in which fish can be made into cakes or pies, or game made into homemade sausages, but I’ve always been fond of a soda bread that’s sold at a small grocery store I used to live near. The ingredients for the bread are pretty basic (although finding cream of tartar required a trip to two grocery stores, one of which has apparently never stocked it and the other which apparently never hasn’t), and the bread comes together quickly. It isn’t nearly as intimidating as yeast breads, which I’ve attempted only once, with limited success. And it’s customizable: you can leave it as written, or add dried fruits or caraway seeds. Up to you! It also makes the house smell wonderful, and comes out of the oven a beautiful brown. It’s a nice, basic country bread, though it is best eaten the day it’s made or soon after.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries
Adapted from Irish Food & Cooking: Traditional Irish Cuisine with Over 150 Delicious Step-By-Step Recipes from the Emerald Isle, by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell
Note: The addition of dried cranberries is definitely not traditional, even for American-style Irish soda bread. Raisins are much more expected, but I like cranberries. So there.

You will need:
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
2 tbsp. sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 and grease a baking sheet. Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter and cut into flour with a fork or your fingers until butter is evenly distributed. The book says the mixture should “resemble fine bread crumbs.”

If using, add dried fruit and sugar; mix well.

Whisk the egg and buttermilk together. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the buttermilk/ egg; mix well until you have a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 1-2 minutes, until dough comes together. Shape into a round, flatten slightly, and score the dough with a deep cross.

Bake for 30 minutes (if using no fruit) and 45 minutes (if using fruit) until the crust is deep brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Slice and serve with “lashings of butter and home-made jam.” Or, you know, with some butter and jelly.

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