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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!

 

Reader Comments (53)

You always manage to make everything so pretty! And I loved the history as well.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Okay, now that's adorable! I love how you made it in that pan, all clever and different. So, so adorable. Happy St. Patty's Day...off to the green beer and green eggs and ham..and..and...14 little league games I need to go to!

March 17 | Unregistered Commenternoble pig

I checked out a loaf of Irish Soda Bread in the market this evening - it was hard as a rock, and St. Patty's Day isn't even over yet! Wish I'd been in your lucky green kitchen instead!

Its probably really wrong, but I quite like plain soda bread toasted with marmalade.
Thanks for your nice comments on my blog, next time I'll make some cake!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterKate

That green frosting just makes me smile! Believe it or not, I have never made soda bread, but if I do, I'll be going green with it. ;)

I covet your scone pan, but I think I prefer that Guinness cake you linked to. It looks amazing.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterLydia

Great variations on Irish soda bread!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Hello, you're photo of the day on Serious Eats! Awesome, "Jesse"!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterLydia

I love it when you change a "classic" into a cakespy original! Happy St. Patty's Day!

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterGigi

Yum! Mints & Jellybeans?...You're crazy, but I like it!

I made chocolate stout cupcakes with a cream cheese glaze for St Patricks day which I posted on my blog if you feel like looking. They were so moist and amazing.

Cakespy have you been kissing The Blarney Stone????

That's some yummy green stuff. Does it go with the beer?

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterGTangerine

I meant to say before how much I love your paintings. As soon as I have some spare dollars that I don't spend on flour, butter or sugar I will most definately be purchasing one of those babies!

What a clever idea and definitely a step up from plain old soda bread!

March 18 | Unregistered CommenteraTxVegn

How fun! What a great idea!

March 18 | Unregistered CommenterlaceyJ.

They certainly look very delicious. The green colouring is interesting. Have you ever tried soaking the raisins in rhum?

Cakespy, I do not know your take on ice cream (as you are not called icecreamspy), but a friend of mine made a delicious irish carbomb ice cream loaf with homemade Guinness ice cream layered under homemade Bailey's ice cream. De-licious!

March 18 | Unregistered Commenterfeathermar

This post is one of the many reasons I like this blog.

March 18 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

Stickygooey: Oh how we love our melty mints. Do you have a grocery store with a bulk aisle?? That's where I always seem to find them.

Aran: Thanks! I think it's not so much the soda bread but our tastes--I think it can be an acquired taste. Or it's possible we just haven't had an awesome one yet.

Amy: It is fun! Not always easy. Some tears, some fighting... ;-) Hope you had a good holiday!

Cheryl: So well put.

Bittersweet: Thanks! It was fun. That shamrock knitting you did though--off the hook cute, dude!

Diana: to you too!

Ley: Oooh, that sounds like a nice topping for it. Same idea I think--sweeten that baby up!

Katy: Ooh, green beer. I have never actually tried it--but need to!

Sarah: Yup--always next year. Or you could always extend the day and make some in April!

Catherine: Us too! I think there's one mini left :-)

Deborah: Thanks! Glad you liked the bit of history too.

Noble pig: Adorable but not as delicious as your RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING cake!

TW: Ha! It DOES go stale quickly, doesn't it??

Kate: No, it's not wrong if it feels so right. ;-)

Lydia: Certainly--while we did manage to make soda bread more delicious, it's still no chocolate cake! And how bitchin'! Serious Eats rocks the free world.

Kevin: Thank you!

Gigi: Thanks! Hope you had a nice one too!

(Cup)Caketastrophe: And DAMN they look good. Awesome job!! Wish I could try one. And thanks for the kind words about the art! :-) Any custom thing you want!

Obsessive Foodie: maybe a little ;-)

Gtangerine: What doesn't go with beer?

Atxvegn: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the adventure :-)

LaceyJ: Thanks!

Cooking Ninja: We tried but they kind of looked weird so we did the sugar water instead. Maybe we added too many raisins though?

Feathermar: Ice cream goes beautifully with desserts and is its own gorgeous dessert--we're on board!

Cynthia: Thanks, you're too sweet!

March 18 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Ooh cool! Green Irish soda bread! I love it :o).

You totally need to send this to Martha. She was on Conan last night and he dissed Irish Soda Bread, calling it a "large brain" or something like that.

You can check out the clip here:

http://blogs1.marthastewart.com/martha/2008/03/this-past-sunda.html

Martha was pretty gosh darn funny.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie

These look fantastic! I like the fact that you made the irish soda bread in a scones pan instead of a cast iron skillet.

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterGary

Yum - what a terrific way of livening up humble soda bread!

March 19 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw

Chocolatecoveredvegan: Thanks! It was fun!

Anne-Marie: That is AWESOME! I think post jail Martha is awesome in general too.

Gary: Thanks! It had a nice visual appeal too.

Cakelaw: Thanks! It certainly did liven it up.

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

This was such a fun post! You know I have never had soda bread. I wonder why? I shall have to seek some out! Do you think anyone will put green frosting on it for me? ;o)

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterEllo
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