Happy St Patrick's Day! It's going to be an absolutely gorgeous day here - sunny and 60! - hopefully spring weather is here to stay :) We don't celebrate St Patrick's Day in a big way (no parades, parties, etc.) but I did whip up this Irish soda bread and tonight we'll have corned beef and cabbage for dinner. Last year I made Irish soda bread for the first time and it was a big hit with my family so I wanted to try another recipe this year. I came upon this recipe while browsing Cook's Illustrated and thought it would be interesting with its combination of all-purpose, whole wheat and cake flours as well as toasted wheat germ.
The best thing about Irish soda breads is how easy they are to whip up - the leavening is provided by the baking soda and buttermilk so there are no long rising times or kneads. I took a few liberties with this recipe, mainly because I discovered I didn't have enough cream of tartar after I'd started to combine the dry ingredients. A quick Google search indicated I could substitute 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar for the cream of tartar so that's exactly what I did. I was also using powdered buttermilk as I've found it always works in recipes and keeps much longer than the quarts I used to buy for baking. The dough was quite sticky and looked very ragged when I put it in the cast iron skillet to bake (wish I'd taken a photo) so don't be concerned if you run into a similar situation. Although the recipe calls for baking the bread in a cast iron skillet, you could also use a baking sheet but you may get a slightly less crunchy crust on the bread. My baking time was only about 38 minutes so you probably want to check the bread earlier than the 40-45 minute suggested baking period.
I was surprised when I cut into this bread by its moist and soft texture; it was a wonderful contrast to the crisp crust. I slathered a slice with butter and thought it was completely delicious - slightly nutty and hearty. I passed most of my loaf onto my mom and step-dad and they gave it some of the most rave reviews I've heard and since I share a ton of my baked goods with them, that's saying something! If you're looking for a last minute recipe this St Patrick's Day, this is definitely one worth considering!
Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
adapted just slightly from Cook's Illustrated
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Whisk together the flours, wheat germ, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and rub it into the flour using your fingers or a pastry cutter until it is completely incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk. Using a fork, incorporate the buttermilk into the dry ingredients just until the dough comes together in large clumps. Turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface and knead very briefly until any loose flour is just moistened - the dough will be very sticky so you might need to add a small amount of flour so you can handle it. The dough will look scrappy and uneven.
Form the dough into a round about 6 to 7 inches in diameter and place in a cast iron skillet. Use a knife to score a deep cross into the top of the loaf. Bake until the bread is nicely browned and a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the loaf, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.