Bread products are deeply rooted in our history. Each country has its “national” bread with recipes dating back to their forefathers. Ireland, for one, has embraced it's kind of bread – the soda bread. It is a basic staple among the Irish that they call it Irish Soda Bread. It’s common to see the locals pair this famous bread with a bottle of Guinness too.
Of course, not all of us would enjoy our soda bread with beer. Let’s see how we can best serve this bread not only for St. Patrick’s Day celebration but all year round.
What is an Irish Soda Bread?
Irish soda bread is a delicious and hearty bread that has been around for a very long time. It’s not the only soda bread there is, but it is undoubtedly the most popular. What makes it different from other bread is it uses baking soda or sodium bicarbonate as a leavening agent instead of the common yeast. It makes the bread easy to prepare and less methodical if you compare it with yeast breads.
You see, with yeast, you need to have the right temperature to have a decent loaf. Ireland has a damp and mild climate, which makes it hard to bake with yeast. The Irishmen learned to adapt to this climate by growing soft wheat that is lower in gluten. The type of flour from this wheat is not compatible with the yeast to make the dough rise; thus, they use baking soda instead to make the famed Irish Soda Bread.
The dough is made with buttermilk, baking soda, salt, and flour from the soft wheat. What makes it rise is the lactic acid in buttermilk. When buttermilk is mixed with baking soda, the combination creates carbon dioxide. It forms the tiny bubbles, which is characteristic of soda bread.
Bread making was part of the daily life of every household. For the families in isolated farmlands in Ireland, they bake their bread in an open hearth and not ovens, using iron pots. This is where the dense loaf with a hard cast and slightly sour tang came from. Soda bread is highly perishable and can last up to three days. Traditionally, it's eaten not as a snack or dessert but as an accompaniment to the main meal.
In Ireland, different regions of the country have a distinct way of preparing their soda bread. The round soda bread loaves are products of the people from the Southern regions. They shape it round with a cross on top. The bakers from the Northern parts of the country, on the other hand, flatten their soda bread into a round-shaped and divide them into four triangles. These triangles are then baked in iron skillets.
Because soda bread is quick to make, it is typical fare for unexpected guests. The traditional way of serving this bread is serving it warm with butter, which the guests would partake over conversations. Nowadays, you can find readily available soda bread around, and they are popular with the locals and tourists alike. There are still few Irish families who are baking their daily from heirloom recipes handed down from generation to generation.
How to Serve Irish Soda Bread
We have discussed at length how Irish soda bread is different from the more prevalent yeast-based loaves that you are more familiar with, how it is served is also different.
Serving the Irish Soda Bread
Although soda bread is ideal for serving at room temperature, it is better to serve it warm. The thick and cakey texture of the bread and warm temperature brings out its hearty flavors. If you can’t have it fresh from the over at least have it toasted.
Irish soda bread is best served with butter and has its creaminess melt into the slice. You need to cut the bread into a quarter of an inch thickness to avoid crumbling and lay it on a bread basket, bread plate, or bread boat. Make sure to place it on a linen doily to keep the bread warm when you place the loaf on the table.
Once the guests are finished eating, and you still have soda bread left, store the bread in an airtight container. You can place it in a bread box, a resealable bag, or wrap it in plastic. Any of these will do as long as it's sealed to prevent the bread from getting stale.
What to Pair Your Irish Soda Bread
A loaf of freshly-baked Irish soda bread is a sight to see. Here are a few suggestions on what to pair with it.
The traditional way of serving your Irish soda bread is serving the loaf while it’s warm with butter. Spread a thick layer of your butter on the slice and revel on the hearty flavor exploding in your mouth. If you think that butter is boring, it's not. You can mash the butter (make sure it's at room temperature) with your favorite herbs to make an herbed butter. Or if you have unsalted butter, you can add a few pinches of salt to have all that creaminess.
The Irish soda bread has an inherent hearty flavor that makes it perfect to pair with sweet citrus marmalades. This is perfect for those who love the sweetness of the jam over a slice of thick bread. You can make your jam with fruit bits or buy those generic jellies. However, nothing compares to the extra texture of the fruit bits. Go crazy with other flavors, but the citrus jellies are the best because it provides tanginess to the dense bread.
The perfect hearty bread pairing with Irish potato soup
Stews and Soups
Again, thanks to the hearty nature of this bread, it works well with meaty stews and soups. Whether it is your traditional stew or thick soup, have a few slices of Irish soda bread to dip. It will soak up the juices along with a few vegetables. It’s a heady combination of faintly sweet bread and something salty you can never get enough.
Make a Sandwich
Turning the Irish soda bread as a base for your sandwich can lead to endless possibilities. You can slather the bread with Dijon mustard and add corned beef, greens, and Swiss cheese. Or make your version of a grilled cheese sandwich and take it a notch higher by dipping it in batter and fry a little until the coating is crispy. Don’t forget that this bread is crumbly, so make sure to toast it before making the sandwich.
Now that you know how Irish soda bread came about and how it's best served, you can start baking now and recreate the sweet aroma of bread baking from the hearth of the Irish people in your home.