The Irish climate isn’t conducive to growing hard wheat, which is why they traditionally concentrated on quick breads, rather than yeasted breads. To make a good yeast bread requires the use of a higher-protein hard wheat, but to make a softer non-yeasted bread, low-protein soft wheat is better.
Tradition would call for buttermilk, but I almost never have buttermilk in my refrigerator. I do, however, always have plain yogurt and I often substitute it, as I have here. Either one is a tangy, acidic dairy product and will react with the baking soda to leaven the bread.
Fun story: (Skip ahead if you just want to get to the danged recipe already!) When my husband, who is Dutch, first moved to the U.S., I asked him to pick up some milk. He asked what kind and I told him to just get the “cheapest” milk. He came back with a quart of buttermilk, which was indeed cheaper than a gallon of regular milk. The Dutch word for it is “karnemelk,” and now I know to tell him not to buy that!
One more fun fact: You can make your own buttermilk, which I’ve done occasionally, using much the same method you’d use to make yogurt. So if you really like to bake with buttermilk — or if you actually enjoy drinking it — that’s a skill worth picking up.
Pro tip: If you feel you’ve gone a tad overboard on your Irish Sofa Bread enjoyment, do some Riverdance-style tapping on your way to the kitchen to get another slice, and that will totally negate all the calories. We promise.
Kick back and enjoy your Irish Soda Bread!
4 cups flour, plus 1 tablespoon extra for tossing with currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ stick cold butter, cut into thin slices
1 ¾ cups buttermilk OR 1 cup of plain yogurt and ¾ cup milk, stirred together
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup dried currants (They can be hard to find, but you can buy them online)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add butter and work it in. You may use a pastry blender or just let your electric mixer do all the work.
Mix the buttermilk/yogurt with the egg and add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients. Toss the tablespoon of flour with the currants and mix them into the dough. Knead the dough on a well-floured counter several times. If it seems to be a very wet dough, don’t worry. It should be.
Form the dough into a round and place it on the parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cut the traditional X on top with a serrated knife, and start checking it after 45 minutes. When the blade of a sharp knife comes out clean, it’s done.