This is the fifth in a series of posts on our trip to Ireland in July. You can view the initial post here! The fourth: Scones (with recipe. The third: Irish Fry, The second: O’Keeffe Butcher Shop, Donerail and first: Whippy Cones.
Will The Real Irish Soda Bread Please Stand Up?
While in Ireland, I fell in love with Irish Wholemeal Soda Bread. My favorite one was Macroom’s. Every Friday morning we went to the Farmers’ Market in Mallow, Ireland to buy our week’s treasures: bread, cheese, produce, fresh fish, jam and whatever else looked inviting.
The day before I left Ireland, I stocked up on four loaves of Macroom’s soda bread to take home. There was no recipe available, but there was a sign in the basket which stated the ingredients. I photographed the sign along with the loaves of bread to use for this blog. I planned to research and find a comparable recipe or make up my own to match the ingredients on the list of this perfect Irish Soda Bread. This is not a yeast bread. It is a quick bread that can be oven ready in five minutes.
Research on this subject was challenging. It seems there is disagreement on who first made it, what are the true ingredients and how exactly should it be made. It is said that the Native Americans first made it and taught it to the colonists. Then it floated its way east to Ireland where it was the mainstay for victims of the Potato Famine in the 1840s.
The TRUE ingredients were: flour, salt, soda and sour milk or buttermilk. That does not look like the soda bread I see in the stores around St. Patrick’s Day. That does not match up with my list of ingredients in my photo which are: wheat flour, wheat bran, wheat germ, white flour, pinhead oats, eggs, butter, honey, salt, bread soda, baking powder and buttermilk!
So what happened to the traditional Irish Soda Bread? It evolved into whatever you want. I saw recipes with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate chips, sugar, brown sugar, yogurt and the list goes on and on.
I love those ingredients in Macroom’s bread. But what are pinhead oats? What is bread soda? Let’s start with pinhead oats. I purchased a bag while still in Ireland. Upon opening them, they look to me like steel cut oats. In fact, I never noticed that my bag of steel cut oats from Bob’s Red Mill says right on the package that they are pinhead oats! Since I also buy bulk oat groats, I can just put them through the grain grinder and make my own pinhead oats.
As for bread soda, I bought a bag of that while still in Ireland so I could make true soda bread. It appears to really be the same thing as American baking soda.
So how do you make it? We took a lesson from Eva, owner of Park So. B&B and Self Catering Cottages where we stayed for three weeks. Although her recipe is different than Macroom’s bread, from all the research I have done, this is the basic procedure.
Irish Soda Bread
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white cake flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup pinhead or steel cut oats
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoon honey
Place all dry ingredients in a bowl except the soda. (I add 1/2 cup buttermilk and the honey to the pinhead oats and let them soak for a few minutes)
Put the soda in your hands and start rubbing your hands together allowing the soda to fall into the bowl of dry ingredients. This is an old tradition to get the lumps out of the soda.
If adding butter, place small chunks into the dry ingredients and work it in a little.
With both hands, throw the ingredients a foot or so into the air several times.
Make a well in the ingredients. In another bowl, beat egg slightly and add buttermilk. Pour all the buttermilk -egg mixture into the well.
Pour pinhead oats-buttermilk into well.
Form your hand like a claw and quickly stir ingredients together. Do NOT over mix. Add more buttermilk if necessary or more flour.
Place dough on floured board, sprinkle flour on top and on your hands. Form a flat round of dough. Or place in bread pan. With a knife, make a cross on the bread which is supposed to keep the devil away. Prick each of the four sections of dough with the knife to “let the fairies out”. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then 325 for 20 minutes. This is a hearty bread.