As a warm-up to St. Patrick's Day, I am going back to my Irish roots and preparing three mini-meals consisting of three Irish items of food and drink. A trinity of trinities, you might say. Some dishes will be more authentic than others; all will promote mirth and therefore be in the spirit of the holiday. Enjoy.
#1: Irish Soda Bread, Butter, and Breakfast Tea.
While there's some debate concerning the true origins of soda bread, this baked good remains an Irish-American favorite and for good reason. It's easy to make and pairs well with both the sugary and the savory, thanks to the tang of the buttermilk and the sweetness of the raisins. The interwebs are loaded with recipes (with some particularly vulgar ones having you dye the bread green), but here's a basic version:
- 4 cups white flour
- 4 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and butter.
Stir in buttermilk, egg and raisins. Knead dough slightly on a floured surface. Mold dough into a round loaf and place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a fork inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.
As the bread cools, boil some water in your most trustworthy kettle and prepare your Irish breakfast tea. Simply placing a packet into a large mug is perfectly acceptable, though loose leaf in bone China certainly won't hurt anyone either.
Steeping time is two to three minutes; wait much longer, and bitterness will overwhelm the natural flavor. Milk and sugar allotted, of course, to your taste.
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Now, cut yourself a wedge of still-warm soda bread. One bite is enough to indicate it's fine on its own, but since butter makes everything better, add just a smear of an Irish variety. What's so special about Irish butter? Besides being laced with whiskey -- just kidding, but wouldn't that be amazing? -- it's generally richer and creamier due a higher butterfat content. Better for spreading and eating.
With your tea, bread, and butter, you are primed to wax nostalgic about Old Ireland. I recommend listening to The Chieftains or reading some Yeats to get started.