Since I'm 1/4 Irish, you can imagine that St. Paddy's Day is a big deal for me even without the green beer (since I don't usually drink, other than an occasional glass of wine, and have always loathed beer even when it wasn't looking putrid).
I usually make corned beef 'n' cabbage, except that it's not vegetarian and so I can't cook it where I'm currently staying; but there's always just happy indulgence in a plateful of potatoes ... maybe a buffet of mashed, roasted with garlic, fried ... :) Don't worry -- I'll throw some protein (perhaps some salmon?) into the mix!
But the key ingredient to my celebration is my Brown Soda Bread, served with beloved Dubliner cheese ... sigh. Really, I don't need very much else to make me happy.
I've been baking this bread for so long that I don't even know where I found the original recipe, which has been tweaked so many ways that I now call it my own. I know it didn't come from my paternal grandmother, born Mary Brigid (Maie) Collins - is that a great name for a redheaded Irish girl, or what? - who never wrote down recipes and simply cooked and baked instinctively. But beyond that, I'm clueless.
I should make this more often because it's so easy; and yet, it seems to just be an annual celebratory food at my house. Some things are more special when only served occasionally, after all.
Irish flours tend to be more like our whole grain flours; so, for greater authenticity, you need to use whole wheat rather than only white varieties. It's not a sweet bread, despite the currants, and it's also very crumbly and scone-like.
I once saw a recipe for soda bread that contained yeast, which is kinda missing the point of it being a quick bread that relies upon baking soda for leavening. And I've also seen recipes containing caraway seeds; but as my father, the son of my Irish grandmother, always says with utter disgust: "Caraway seeds don't belong in soda bread." He has spoken!
So be sure to take some time while your corned beef is simmering to bake this simple, nutritious, beautifully rustic, and exceptional bread. And don't be shy about slathering it with butter -- St. Paddy's Day is a day for festivity, after all, but there's no need for imbibing or drunkenness ....
Brown Soda Bread
1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup quick oats
3 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup currants, softened (you can also use raisins or dried cranberries or blueberries)
2-2/3 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle a bit of flour onto 2 baking sheets, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the white flour, white whole wheat flour, salt, oats and baking soda. Add the butter and mix it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles meal. Stir in the raisins and the buttermilk to form a wet dough.
Knead the dough until it is cohesive. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into an 8-inch round; place one dough round onto each of the prepared baking sheets. Slice an “X” into the top of the dough.
Bake the breads for 30-35 minutes until they are golden brown. Let cool completely before serving.
Makes 2 loaves.