Saturday, March 28, 2009

A different way of celebrating.

I look forward to St. Patrick's Day every year. Sure, it is some bastardized holiday that has become more an occasion to drink until obliteration than one celebrating the man who rid Ireland of snakes, but as much as I enjoy a well-made Irish coffee, my love for Irish soda bread runs deeper. That, for me, is the true highlight of March 17th.

I can still remember the first time I tasted this bread because the day was marked with a car accident on the streets of San Francisco. My sister and I had stopped at La Farine in Berkeley on our way into the city for morning buns and there was Irish Soda Bread sitting on the shelf, over the shoulder of the baker. It was a variety I had heard about, but had never tried and there it was in front of me. It was the perfect day to take a chance on something potentially phenomenal (it was La Farine, after all) so I went ahead and had them throw one in the bag too. The morning buns, however sugary and messy to eat, were devoured in the car before we crossed the Bay Bridge, but the loaf we saved for a more leisurely moment. This leisurely moment came much later in the afternoon - only after our car was hit full on by a car coming down those hills of the city without stopping for its red light! No one was injured, but our plan of spending a beautiful, bright, and sunny day in the city window shopping and relaxing was shot and instead, we were shuttled back across the bay by the tow truck driver and waited at the Carl's Jr. across the street from the mechanic while insurance was dealt with.

I should qualify this deep affection as one for the American Irish soda bread -- slightly sweet with raisins and, undoubtedly, caraway seeds!! I love the flavor of rye that it gives and it probably tricks my senses into thinking the bread is healthier than it actually is. Left to my own devices, I could probably finish a 10 inch loaf before lunch time.

Last year I made the Cook's Illustrated recipe with raisins and caraway seeds and I brought some delicious white cheddar and Granny Smith apples to accompany it. This year, I decided to try a different recipe, but incorporated elements from last year's pick -- most notably, baking the bread in a dutch oven and brushing it with melted butter to give it a nice crust. I decreased the amount sugar, and also the baking powder because, as this is a soda bread, it doesn't quite make sense to me to use so much of another leavening agent.

The result was a more scone-like than bread-like soda bread. I love a good scone, so this texture I don't mind at all, but I think next year I'll revert back to the basic Cook's Illustrated version for something more reminiscent of bread. It wasn't at all necessary, but I bought some rich Kerrygold Irish butter to go with the bread and it was heaven in my mouth. I think you could slather some Kerrygold on a shoe and it would be delicious.

I'm thinking about incorporating this bread into my regular repertoire seeing as how I just can't get enough of the taste, but I also kind of like how it is only associated with one particular holiday for me. As my last fix was a fairly recent, I'm not itching to devour another loaf just yet, but give it time. I'll be feenin' soon!! And then I'll have some real decisions to make.

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