Irish soda bread is easy to eat — but a bit harder to make. Trust me, I’ve tried. Twice. And while I was pretty proud of one of the loaves, it isn’t worth the hassle of trying to craft this delicious bread on your own when there are myriad restaurants and bakeries where you can get your soda bread fix this St. Patrick’s Day.
Kneaded Bread in Port Chester, Cathy’s Biscotti in White Plains, Eileen’s Country Kitchen in Yonkers, Red Barn Bakery in Irvington, Baked by Susan in Croton on Hudson, and Enrico’s Pastry in Hartsdale tell us about their respective versions of the traditional quickbread.
WM: Can you take me through the process of making Irish soda bread?
Enrico’s Pastry: Key ingredients are, of course, the highest quality buttermilk: Breakstone’s buttermilk; baking soda to make it spread instead of just rising; baking powder, fresh eggs, and a high quality unsalted butter. I use a combination of flour (full strength and a cake flour). I use caraway seeds and what we refer to as midget raisins, which give a sweet flavor and a very small amount of sugar. Another secret is dusting the bread before putting into oven with a combination of powdered sugar and cake flour. The true secret is in the handling of the mix — the less you knead this bread the lighter and less dense the finished product is.
Cathy’s Biscotti: The soda bread begins with soaking raisins in warm water to plump them, mixing the dry ingredients, cutting butter into the dry mix, adding the drained raisins, adding eggs and buttermilk, and mixing until the dough comes together. Dough is then portioned, shaped into a round loaf and given a sprinkling of sugar. Then it’s off to the oven to bake for 35 minutes.
Baked by Susan: We use a slightly different mixing process where we mix all of the dry ingredients together first and then blend in softened butter until it is incorporated. We then add the buttermilk to make the dough.
Photo courtesy of Cathy’s Biscotti
WM: What are the keys to making good Irish soda bread?
Kneaded Bread: Good quality ingredients and we bake every day. We never sell a loaf from the previous day.
Cathy’s Biscotti: The key to making good soda bread is using quality ingredients, not overworking the dough, and not over-baking the loaves.
Baked by Susan: I think the bread should not be too sweet because it is often eaten with dinner.
WM: What kind of flour do you use?
Photo courtesy of Baked by Susan
Eileen’s Country Kitchen: I like to use plain cream flour, best of course being Odlums, an Irish brand [founded in 1845]. If you cannot get the Irish stuff, regular store-bought flour does the job.
Red Barn Bakery: Organic whole wheat and organic unbleached unbromated flours. For the gluten free version, organic gluten-free rice flour.
WM: Do you put any “extras” in your bread? Currants, raisins, powdered sugar, etc.?
Cathy’s Biscotti: Our soda bread includes raisins and a small amount of sugar. The texture is a cross between bread and a cake; it’s moist and delicious! We finish each loaf with a sprinkle of sugar before it’s baked.
Red Barn Bakery: Currents … and I prefer no powdered sugar. It takes away from the buttery crust.
Baked by Susan: Our bread has raisins, no caraway seeds.
Photo courtesy of Kneaded Bread
WM: What drink best complements your Irish soda bread?
Eileen’s Country Kitchen: For me it’s a well-brewed cup of Irish tea, and again there are a few Irish brands to choose from such as Lyons, Barrys, and Bewleys.
Red Barn Bakery: Black tea or tea with milk… old school. Or a macchiato.
Photo courtesy of Eileen’s Country Kitchen
WM: Can you purchase your Irish soda bread year round or only around St. Patrick’s Day? Can you purchase it to stay or to go?
Kneaded Bread: We bake Irish soda bread daily from March 1 to March 31 and we sell it to go or feel free to eat it at the bakery.
Red Barn Bakery: Well sell typically in March but it can be pre-ordered any time of year. You can buy it both to stay and to go.
Eileen’s Country Kitchen: Eileen’s Country Kitchen makes fresh soda bread every day for local purchase and in-house. Every table that comes in for a bite to eat is greeted by a fresh mixed basket of our well-known Irish soda breads. You can purchase large round loafs to stay or to go at $5 each.
WM: What are your soda bread sales around St. Patrick’s Day as compared to the rest of the year?
Enrico’s Pastry: Sales increase the closer you get to holiday with that week being the biggest. We sell any where between 450 to 750 loves of bread for the holiday and maybe another 2,500 wholesale.
Kneaded Bread: Monday to Thursday we bake around 25 a day plus orders (we take orders so if you come to the bakery you won’t lose out if we sell out), and about 40 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and 100 plus orders on St Patrick’s Day.
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