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Sunday, March 15, 2009

mini irish soda breads

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marking the seasons

One of the things I love best about being a mom is celebrating the seasons with Meredith. Re-creating holiday traditions I loved from my own childhood, or coming up with new ways to commemorate the changes throughout the year is so fun…  it brings back pure childhood joy for me as I watch and participate in Meredith’s experience. 

For the last couple of years, we’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, not because we’re Irish or anything, but just because it’s a great excuse to make something yummy to share with friends. We make little Irish soda breads, put them in bags that we’ve decorated with lots of shamrocks, don our greenest apparel, and march around the neighborhood delivering our gifts. This year it was a snowy Sunday—and only ten degrees in the bright sunshine! So we took our sled.

This is the third year we have followed this tradition, and it’s fun to see how much more Meredith can do every year. This year, at 4½ years old, she scooped the flour and oats, measured the salt and baking soda, stirred all the dry ingredients together, and incorporated the butter. Then she reminded me (after I’d already shaped the loaves for the first batch) that I had forgotten to include the golden raisins. “Ack! Back into the bowl to knead in the raisins!” By this time, there was no need for her to slash an X in the top of the loaves—they were a rough and ragged bunch. Then I skinned my thumb knuckle when grating the butter for the second (and final) batch. Ouch! Even though grating is a much quicker and easier method than cutting the butter into the flour, it has its own hazards. I look forward to the year when Meredith is old enough to risk her own knuckles on this project.

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mini Irish soda breads

This recipe is based on one in Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Home Baking. I’ve found this recipe for one huge loaf to be perfect to divide into 4 small loaves, perfect for sharing with friends on St. Patrick’s Day… or any other day! It’s sort of like a big, not-too-sweet whole-wheaty scone studded with golden raisins!

I’ve included my quick and easy method of cutting butter into dry ingredients…  I’m way too lazy to do this with a pastry cutter, my fingertips, or 2 knives, as cookbooks tell you to do. Yes, the food processor works…  but do you really want to get it dirty for this project? Here’s the big secret: you just grate the butter (frozen or refrigerated) and then toss it into the flour mixture. Voila! Done in a trice! You can use this butter-grating method for pie crust, scones, or any other kind of pastry that calls for cutting in butter! Could I really have invented this? I’ve never seen it described anywhere else. Let me know!

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ cup rolled old-fashioned oats
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter, frozen or very cold
2 cups golden raisins, steamed for 5 minutes over boiling water to soften
approximately 2 ½ cups buttermilk, or milk soured with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or mild vinegar

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a big bowl.
3. Grate the butter on the coarse side of a grater and toss into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. (Grating the butter takes the place of painstakingly cutting the butter into the dry ingredients.) Toss the raisins into the flour mixture and mix well.
4. Pour most of the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix well to moisten the flour thoroughly. If it is not moist yet, add the rest of the buttermilk—and perhaps a bit more as needed. It’s OK if it turns out a little gooey—it will still bake up into delicious little loaves!
5. Use wet hands to pull it together into a big mound on the counter and divide it with a big knife or dough scraper into 4 pieces. Round each piece slightly and place on baking sheets (I put 2 loaves on each sheet). Cut a ½-inch deep X across the top of the bread, and pop the breads into the oven.
6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden-brown and crusty. I have a convection oven, so your breads may need a little longer. Also your oven may not burn the golden raisins on the outside of the loaves? Try it and see!  Either way, the bread still tastes great!
7. Set on a rack to cool. Eat warm or at room temperature.

 


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