I didn’t grow up in an Irish family. Or neighborhood. Or community. I wouldn’t call Phoenix, Arizona a hotbed of Celtic culture. Growing up the only way I remember celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was to make absolutely sure I was wearing green on March 17th. Absolutely sure. Pity the poor kid that forgot. Many sharp hard pinches were coming their way.
As I got older, I progressed from green clothing to green beer on St. Pat’s. Though never a fan of cheap dyed beer, I drank Guinness when my meager college budget allowed. Hey, cute boys hung out at the Irish pub which I’m sure had nothing to do with it. Years later, I went to Ireland and drank at the holy grail – right at the brewery bar. And in every pub in Dublin, the countryside, and basically anywhere we could find it which was everywhere. Oh, that was a nice trip.
Anyway, I moved to Chicago after undergrad and stepped into a whole new world on St. Patrick’s Day (and in this town, there’s a special day for every culture. Hello Pulaski Day!) All day parades and parties; green rivers and bagpipes; crazy hats and little girls with extreme curls doing jigs in authentic costumes. It’s something else let me tell you. The only thing that really pisses me off is that the bars insist on serving Guinness in plastic cups on this hallowed day. It’s an outrage! Everyone knows that a proper pint is served in a glass. Argh. So while clothing and beer have always factored into my St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, it wasn’t until recently that food became part of the festivities. Truthfully, when you hear “Irish cuisine” what kind of imagery does that conjure?
This year to celebrate, I tried to get my friend Dan over at Waffleizer to waffle some corned beef hash for the occasion. He might. Or I could whip up a corned beef & cabbage extravaganza myself. Maybe bust out some dark chocolate cupcakes with a Guinness infused buttercream. Or throw back a few shots of Jameson. But I won’t. I’ll make soda bread. Irish soda bread in fact.
A little internet search reveals that “traditional” soda bread is very basic – flour, salt, buttermilk, baking soda. And guess what? That’s how I like it. As folks became more affluent, they started adding things to their family recipes – raisins, caraway seeds, butter, sugar even orange zest. Many would argue that this isn’t “real” soda bread but if you would like to do that, feel free. I don’t think it’s cool for a Polish girl to dictate how you should make your soda bread. But me, I like mine straight up with a splash of authentic, Guinness on the side please.
This is the easiest of easy things to make. Ridiculously easy actually. Four ingredients, two minutes of measuring and mixing and its in the oven for 50 minutes. Less than an hour for a little bit of loveliness. Warm slices slathered with butter – honey butter if you can muster up the energy – will go in no time. The loaf isn’t a good keeper but it shouldn’t last long anyway. If you do happen to have any leftovers, I have it on good authority that a stale slice, with a little sugar sprinkled over and warm milk poured on top is a pretty tasty breakfast.
I’ve been making this recipe for so long that when I looked it up in my tattered notebook, I discovered it was the 5th recipe entry out of over 200. Dang, that is a long time. I noticed a smeared note at the bottom of the page – “Marion” – which is my cryptic shorthand for Marion Cunningham, one of my favorite go-to cookbook authors. This is her recipe and I like it just the way it is but I suppose you could jazz it up if you like. I highly recommend checking out her books – The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is a great one to have on your shelves.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: WORTH TWO JIGS AND A SHILLELAGH! Yeah, I don’t know what that means either but doesn’t it sound festive? Anytime you can work a word like “shillelagh” into a conversation it’s a good day. This is one of those super easy and ridiculously delicious things that you have to make, holiday or not. So whip up a loaf, grab a Guinness – in a glass please – do a little Lord of the Dance kinda jig and enjoy the day.
IRISH SODA BREAD – recipe from Marion Cunningham
Makes one loaf
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 375°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk and stir vigorously until dough comes together.
- Turn dough out onto work surface and knead a few times – it will be sticky – to bring it all together.
- Pat dough into a 6” circle, slash the top with a sharp knife (a slash or a cross will do) and place on prepared sheet pan.
- Bake 50 minutes until golden brown.
- Best eaten same day as it will dry out quickly. And it’s best warm slathered with butter and maybe a little honey. Umm.