Growing up, we had a little book of Irish toasts and poems sitting in our living room. My maternal grandmother, seeing that the strength of the Irish was growing too strong, came over one day very briefly and went into the living room. When she left, we found an Italian book sitting next to the Irish one so her grandchildren wouldn’t forget their mother’s roots. It is with great irony and a big smile that I remember one of the Irish poems, which I read so many times that I have now have memorized it:
St. Patrick was a gentleman
Who through strategy and stealth
Drove all the snakes from Ireland
Here’s a toasting to his health
But not too many toastings
Lest you lose yourself
And forget good St. Patrick
and see all those snakes again.
Every year, my mother & father would host a party for St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate my father’s ancestors (and because it was a really good excuse to have a party). The party was complete with brisket, potatoes, cabbage and Irish Soda bread + spirits and beer galore. Over the years, I have tried making many different Irish Soda bread recipes because I can’t stand the imposter store-bought kind. This recipe hails from Rose Mary Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and is the best recipe I have found so far. I hope your family likes it as much as mine!
Oh, and if you’re not a beer drinker, make sure you try a Whiskey, Ginger Ale and Lime this St. Patrick’s Day. It will clear out your sinuses.
Irish Soda Bread
Original recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
1 cup raisins
1/2 c Irish whiskey (i.e. Jameson)
4 T unsalted Kerrygold butter (or regular), cold
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 c + 1 T buttermilk
1 T Demerara sugar (Optional)
1. Soak the raisins in the whiskey for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the whiskey for the whiskey butter.
2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Cut butter into 8 slices. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, incorporate the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins with a silicone spatula/wooden spoon. Slowly, stir in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Be careful and don’t over mix. Empty dough out onto counter and knead, roughly 8 times, using a bench scraper to bring it together. Try not to use flour unless you have to. (Yes, your hands will be covered in the sticky dough. Big deal).
4. Shape dough into a round loaf, roughly 6″ diameter. Spray a sharp knife with cooking spray and make a 1/2″ slash from one side of dough to another, then a second to form a cross. Optional:sprinkle with demerara sugar
5. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool bread on a wire rack. Optional:Wrap in a clean cotton/linnen dish towel and cool on wire wrack
Irish Whiskey Butter
3 T reserved Irish whiskey from raisins
1 T Demerara or regular sugar
9 T unsalted Kerrygold butter, softened
Stir together whiskey and sugar in a microwavable bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave 20 seconds. Stir to dissolve most of the sugar. (It’s ok if the sugar does not completely dissolve.) Cover and allow to cool. Stir the softened butter until smooth. Then, slowly stir the whiskey into the butter until incorporated. Refrigerate if not using immediately.