Irish Quick Breads Are Easy Risers

Brown bread and soda bread are made with minimal fuss and just a few basic ingredients

Irish Soda Bread With Golden Raisins and Currants, created by Jill O'Connor.

Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet famous for his wit, once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” For true brilliance early in the morning, Mr. Wilde never needed to look any further than his plate, for a full Irish breakfast is a glory to behold. It isn’t just the fried eggs and potatoes and wide array of sizzling pork products that make a classic Irish breakfast so enticing, it’s the homemade bread and scones, baked fresh every morning, that make it special.

The two most famous Irish loaves — brown bread and soda bread — are uncomplicated, free-formed quick breads leavened with baking soda. Bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland around 1840, and it quickly became popular, as bread leavened with baking soda was easier and faster to make than yeast leavened bread. Many Irish kitchens of the era had open hearths rather than ovens, and soda bread was simple to stir together and bake in a covered Dutch oven or on a griddle over a turf fire.

Eduardo Contreras / U-T

Classic Irish Brown Bread. prepared by Jill O'Connor.

Brown bread and soda bread are made with minimal fuss and just a few basic ingredients — white and/or whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda and sour milk (or buttermilk, in a modern kitchen.) The acid in the buttermilk activates the baking soda and helps the bread rise. With their crisp, crunchy crust and dense, moist crumb, both types of bread became a staple, best eaten the day they are baked, and delicious spread with plenty of good, salted Irish butter.

Irish brown bread, made with stone-ground whole-wheat flour, is rustic and healthy. Its beautiful, crisp crust is made extra crunchy by starting the loaf at a very high temperature for the first few minutes of baking. My recipe harks back to the oldest, most frugal recipes made without eggs or butter — a basic combination of whole-wheat flour, baking soda, salt and just enough buttermilk to form a soft dough. I stray just a little from this basic recipe with the addition of a little oatmeal and a dash of dark brown sugar for a complex and pleasing flavor and texture.


Read the rest of the story in The San Diego Union-Tribune.