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Irish Soda Bread: A Novice vs. Professional Approach

For those unfamiliar with Irish Soda Bread, you should know there isn’t just one type. But if it doesn’t have caraway seeds, my family would be the first to argue that it’s not realllllly Irish Soda Bread. That’s strictly opinion, but I have to agree with them, the seeds really do make a world of difference in the taste of the bread. So I include them. I also believe in a hearty mix of both golden and regular raisins, because the mix of colors makes for a more decorative presentation.

Now, I do love me some bread, but that doesn’t make me any sort of expert. In fact, I decided it was time to reach out to an actual baker, for some professional advice on the topic. Brandon Roderick, Owner and Head Baker at The Baker in downtown New Bedford has developed a cult like following at his small downtown shop, in just 2 years. He and his staff are cranking out top notch authentic artisan baked goods, six days a week! It’s amazing he even had the time to answer my questions, but I’m sure glad he did. Here’s what he had to say about Irish Soda Bread.

Do you make Irish soda bread at the Baker?

We haven’t offered Irish Soda Bread in the past but who knows if we’ll do it for St. Patrick’s day this year. Be sure to follow The Baker on Facebook and Instagram to find out!

For someone who has never tried Irish soda bread, is there another baked good that you think they might be able to compare it to?

Irish Soda Bread lends itself to the same use of the word “bread” as banana bread or pumpkin bread. It’s actually a “quick bread” which is a category in baking named for its short preparation time. It utilizes chemical leavening versus yeast. For this reason, I would say it is most similar to a bread-y scone with a very fine crumb structure and thin crust. Think of a muffin, with more flour and less sugar, baked in a big round dough loaf.

Are there any special ingredients that you think really make or break this bread?

Like most cultural foods (and isn’t everything cultural?), I’m sure each family has their favorite combination of add ins or goodies. And just as there is a favorite combination, I’m sure if you added something like chocolate chips – your family would riot! I think, like most sacred family recipes and food, it comes from tradition and it gets woven into our family down to the core of who we are.

I think any add ins can be balanced well enough to make a great tasting Irish soda bread but traditionalists may disagree. It is important to note the science behind the Irish soda bread requires some kind of acid to react with the baking soda (most commonly buttermilk) but I would warn those who want to make substitution to leave the leavening (baking soda) and leavening activator (buttermilk, brown sugar vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt, cream of tartar, etc.) alone and focus on the additional flavors you add in (raisins, nuts, seeds, etc.). Perhaps try grating some lemon zest into the flour before making it. Or have you ever tried to soak your raisins in rum or orange juice? You can even try toasting your nuts before adding them in – it’ll make a world of difference!

Isn’t Everything Cultural?

Well, I hope my family and friends are hungry. With suggestions like these, I think I’ll need to try a few different variations on the classic this year. Hello, chocolate chip Irish soda bread! It’s amazing how families, traditions, and flavor inspirations from different regions of the world can all contribute to the many variations in the recipes we all enjoy. But how fun is it to step outside of our comfort zones, and try something new? Brandon if you’re ever ready for an Irish soda bread throw down, I’m your girl. I’m sure finding taste testers would be no trouble at all.

Happy St. Patricks Day everyone!

Caitlin Joseph