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Sunday
Mar162008

It's Not Easy Being Green: Cakespy Strives to Make Irish Soda Bread Delicious

P for PATRICK, as in the Saint!
Without a doubt, one of the best thing about holidays is the seasonal sweets that come with them: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, chocolates for Valentine's Day, Cookies of all sorts for Christmas. And yet, for us, St. Patrick's Day has always remained a seasonal void for baked goods--though we've spied some great ideas which we hope will become the new traditions (like this or this), it still seems like the staple is Irish Soda Bread.

But why the bad blood toward the humble bread? Thinking that perhaps understanding would garner appreciation, we researched its history a bit. What we learned was a bit of surprise--not an ancient bread by any means, Irish Soda bread only dates back to the 1840's or so, when Bicarbonate of soda (the bread's yeast-alternative leavening agent) was first introduced to the country, and gained popularity not because of its deliciousness per se, but because it was quick, easy and cheap to make. Traditionally it was not a sweet bread, instead made in a griddle with the most basic of ingredients--flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda (no sugar!). The resulting bread was dense and highly perishable, with a bit of a sour tang (read more about it here!). It is thought that the ingredients which became popular later on--sugar, raisins, carraway seeds--were added to enhance flavor and shelf life. (Also, for some trivia, it appears that while some say the typical slash atop Soda bread rounds is a cross, to ward off the devil; others say the reason for this is much more practical--simply a scoring to make it easier to divide into fourths after baking).

But moreover, it seems to us that while Irish Soda Bread is a tradition, it seems that deliciousness was never at its core. After all, additions had been made to improve the flavor over time...so why not take it a few steps further? We resolved to channel our Irish Heritage and get baking. We found a goodlookin' recipe here (sans raisins, but as you'll see below this was not a problem for us), and put together the ingredients and tried out several variations, segregating each trial in a different panel in our favorite scone pan. Here's what we tried and how it all tasted:

DoughClassic Irish Soda Bread
As a control, we tried at least one variation true to the original recipe; the resulting taste was, as expected, slightly sweet with a slight tang, tasty when just out of the oven, but largely un-exceptional after (Cakespy Note: by saying this we do not mean to talk smack about the recipe itself, but Soda Bread in general).

Green Irish Soda BreadGreen Irish Soda Bread
Our first variation was a test to see if perhaps the bread might be livened up by adding some green dye; however, while we swear some foods will taste better if they're a certain color, it was not true in the case of Irish Soda Bread. However, we would be remiss if we didn't remark on the fact that the green bread was far cuter than its classic counterpart. 

Irish Soda BreadIrish Soda Bread, Sans Raisins, and with Frosting
Next, we tried to add a little sweetness to the mix, by soaking the raisins in sugar water before baking. We'd heard that soaking dried fruit in such a manner can plump it, discouraging dehydration during baking, and indeed, while no different in appearance than the classic recipe, the slightly sweet and far more moist raisins did add a little something. However, to really seal in the flavor, we realized that adding some frosting (green, naturally) might help. It did.

Melty Mint Soda BreadJelly Belly Irish Soda Bread
While also on that sweet path, we sampled some variations on the raisins--one with our beloved melty mints and one with jellybeans--green, naturally. In both cases, the moister texture and added bit of sweetness thanks to the additions was welcome, chasing away the acidity of the salt and baking soda. And, you know, they had a higher quotient of adorableness than the classic bread.

Extreme Irish Soda BreadExtreme Frosted Irish Soda Bread
At this point, we felt like we had something--but it still wasn't completely realized yet. So for our final attempt, we combined all the best aspects of the above experiments into one mighty, some might say extreme Irish soda bread--green food coloring, melty mints, green jelly bellies, and of course green frosting. The result? Well, let's just say this one made us very happy to be Irish.

So, to close? Well, traditions are clearly important--these rituals are part of our society and history. But sometimes, there can be a fine line between maintaining tradition and being scared to try something new. So don't be scared to challenge those old-school traditions--you might just discover a new classic. 
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

 

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Reader Comments (53)

Another cakespy original take on a classic! Love the four leaf clover thing you have going on!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Who else would think to liven up soda bread with frosting? Cakespy, of course! (I wish I had the luck of the Cakespy, and could have sampled it, too--your variations all sounded delicious!)

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

I loved this... and funny enough I think I"m gonna make my first Irish soda bread ever tomorrow. My hubby (who is half irish) wants me to keep it traditional though, but maybe I'll take that tip about soaking the raisins first. He won't notice that one :-) Oh I would love to slather some frosting on mine... hmmm, maybe I should start defrosting the bag in my freezer now! Happy St Paddy's Day!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterVegan_Noodle

Thanks for your comment on my blog Cakespy! I've just been perusing yours and am feeling MIGHTY HUNGRY!!!! Happy St Paddy's to you too ... (I'm a St Patricks' birthday girl so its especially special for me ... if only I'd been born Irish!)

March 16 | Unregistered Commenterlittlemithi

Leave it to you- cakespy- to turn soda bread into cake :) I love the green variations and the final product! I actually have had some pretty good success with soda bread lately (but I've sure tried my share of duds!)

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

Very creative!

I was looking for something fun to make with the sous chefs for St. Patrick's Day and since they have their first baseball game that day a little extra luck can't hurt!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterKrysta

Excellent spin on soda bread. That looks very tasty. Happy St Paddy's Day!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterCupcakeLady

Your efforts to make soda bread enjoyable are much appreciated! You're doing a great service.

This looks so good. I'll like to grab one right now.

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

These are adorable and so happily green! Happy St. Patrick's day to you!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterKatia

Happy Saint Pat's day!
Can i rinse these off with a pint of guinness?
:-)

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterZen Chef

I am sooo impressed! Are you sure your not into science or engineering? I absolutely loved your experiments! Very fun to read and look at =D

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterShandy

Ann: Thanks! All about that green :-)

Ricki: Well, doesn't frosting kind of make...well, everything better!?

Vegan Noodle: Oooh, can't wait to hear how yours turns out. Keep the frosting to the side for yourself! :-) And I can't recommend the tip about soaking the raisins first enough--it made a difference!

Littlemithi: Thank you! And happy birthday!!

Jessy: Thanks!

Krysta: Oooh, I'd say that is worthy of the tricked-out soda bread!

Cupcakelady: Thanks! To you too!

Southern Hostess: We try! :-)

Helene: I wish you could come try some!

Katia: Yes! It's all about the happy green stuff, isn't it?

Zen Chef: Sounds like a perfect idea!

Shandy: Ha! Not quite...but maybe one day, you never know!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Adorable post! I'm kind of meh on soda bread. Why bother when now you can make No Knead Brioche!

Where, oh where can I find those cute melty mints?

Quite the Irish test kitchen you had! Loved the different explorations of the dough and the little bits of history. I happen to love irish soda bread but haven't had any in a long time.. Great job!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterAran

Fun post! Thanks for the reminder - I have to make sure my kids are in green today.

I love having you as all of our test kitchen. You make it look so easy & fun!

Here's hoping you find that pot 'o gold, Amy

March 17 | Unregistered Commenterfamiliabencomo

Brilliant! Further proof that everything tastes better with a little frosting.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

I have never made soda bread as i think it looks so rough always. May be it is me.
But i woudn't mind trying it with frosting that is muchmore delicious looking

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterHappy cook

Haha, what great ideas! I always love seeing these baking experiments!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterBitterSweet

oh yumm!! those look amazing...

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Cheers,
Diana

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Evans

Oh, I love soda bread! I guess I have odd tastes. lol. I eat mine with some apricot honey and loads of butter, though...that probably masks the normal taste of it.

March 17 | Unregistered Commenterley

definitely better than green beer, which is the st patty's day tradition i always find myself indulging in! yours look like soda-bread-scones!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

Oh, you put me to shame!! I WISH I had made my own, but sadly, I resorted to picking up a loaf at Whole Foods today.

There's always next next year. Happy St. Patty's Day!

I just love learning from you! This looks like something I'd demolish as soon as it was done.
I'm a hopeless glutton. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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