Forget the green bagels.
Next week, as millions of Americans celebrate St.Patrick's Day, consider a real connection to Celtic cuisine, Irish soda bread. You can buy some tasty loaves at area bakeries, or you can make your own at home quite easily.
I first had the genuine article many years ago at a B&B in Dublin as part of a traditional Irish breakfast. I recall it being dense and brown and warm with the butter spread upon it melting in an instant.
Pundits claim that the Irish did not invent this bread, but it has become closely identified with them. The oldest published Irish soda bread recipe dates to 1836, around the time that bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland, according to the Atlanta-based Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.
Irish soda bread is a quick, simple food made, and according to the soda bread preservation society it’s traditionally made from only four ingredients -- flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt -- mixed together quickly and baked in under a half hour. You can use a variety of flours. The Society for Preservation of Irish Soda Bread offers three recipes on its web site. A recipe from the Culinary Institute of America includes raisins and caraway seeds and is made using white cake flour for a light crumb. You’ll find the recipe here.
Purists, such as Ed O'Dwyer of the soda bread preservation society, say soda breads with added raisins and other fruits is not authentic. I tested the recipe for white soda bread on the group’s web site. The loaf looked pretty good, but tasted plain, much like a giant buttermilk biscuit. A smear of preserves improved things.
“If your ‘soda bread’ has raisins, it's not ‘soda bread!’ ” O’Dwyer says on his group’s web site. “It's called ‘Spotted Dog’ or ‘Railway Cake!‘ “If it contains raisins, eggs, baking powder, sugar or shortening, it's called ‘cake,’ not "bread.’ All are tasty, but not traditional Irish Soda Bread!”
O’Dwyer’s entitled to is views, said Mary Murray, owner of in Huntington. She makes her breads using sugar, eggs, raisins and caraway seeds and bakes them in a rectangular loaf pan. “ I think we make a very good Irish soda bread. It’s very popular.” Soda bread is a year ‘round item at A Rise Above, but you’ll have to call ahead to have one put aside.
Gerard Fioravanti. chef-owner of Fiorello Dolce in Huntington, makes his whole wheat soda breads from mid-February through St. Patrick’s Day. He’s began baking only three loaves a day last month, but that pace will pick up in the next few days. “For St. Patrick’s Day last year we did close to 50.” He also bakes miniature breads.
Fioravanti’s recipe calls for butter, raisins, sugar, and caraway seeds with a brushing of buttermilk on the top before it goes into the oven. “It’s kind of like a big scone,” he said.
At Reinwald’s Bakery, Irish Soda Bread and smaller tea biscuits made using the same recipe, are a seasonal item. “I’ve tried a lot of different ones. There’s not that many as good as ours. Our’s is amazing, said the shop’s Billy Reinwald. Reinwald’s recipe includes yeast.
Reinwald says sales of the bread, now about 10 a day will soar to 500 loaves on the day of Huntington’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade (this year, March 13) and on St. Patrick’s Day itself.
Irish soda breads also are available at Huntington grocers, including Southdown Marketplace, where the breads, produced by the Brooklyn and New York Bread Co., can be found in a bin with pita breads. Wild by Nature, King Kullen and Waldbaum’s also sell Irish Soda Bread.
A soda bread should be judged based on its shape, the use of the traditional cross mark in its crust, ingredients, color, and its crumb, according to O’Dwyer, who offers a scoring sheet on his site. He probably wouldn’t like any of the loaves I found. I thought most of them were what most consumer are familiar with.
Soda bread won’t keep beyond a day or two. You can use day-old soda bread for making grilled sandwiches or try it ala French toast.
Enjoy its tangy flavor, alone or topped with butter or preserves for breakfast, with cheese for a light snack, or as an accompaniment to meal.
A Rise Above Bake Shop, 33 Main St. Huntington, NY 11743 631-351-9811
Price $4.25. Weight 1 lb.
Ingredients: Flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, eggs, raisins and/or caraway seeds.
Though oddly rectangular for an Irish soda bread -- it’s baked in a loaf pan, the raisin-only version struck me as a sort of raisin bread without the cinnamon. It’s loaded with raisins. Crunchy crust. Most bread like in terms of texture of the breads sampled. Not overly sweet.
Fiorello Dolce, 57 Wall St., Huntington, NY 11743 631-424-0803
Price: $5.25. Weight 1.5 lb.
Made using a blend of white and whole wheat flours, buttermilk, sugar, raisins, caraway seeds. This delicious, dense, light brown loaf is closest to what I recall from Ireland, despite the use of non-traditional ingredients. The rocky crust is crunchy. It has a true crossmark and is shaped in a ragged edge circle. Somewhat resistant to a knife, but it holds together well.
King Kullen, 50 N. New York Ave., Huntington, NY 11743 631-385-7365
King Kullen, 275 Jericho Tpke., Huntington Station, NY 11746-3639
Price $2.99. Weight 1 lb.
Ingredients: Flour, water, sugar, butter, milk, raisins, baking powder, salt.
Manufactured in Wyandanch by Lindenmann’s Old World Bakery, part of the Cannoli Factory, and certified kosher. Deep golden color, perfectly round, deep cross-marks. Dense, but soft and chewy. A hint of sweetness.
Reinwald’s Bakery, 495 New York Ave., Huntington, NY 11743
Price $4.15. Weight 1 1b.
Ingredients: Bread flour, pastry flour, water, butter, sugar, eggs, milk powder, baking powder, yeast, salt.
You’ll find three kinds of loaves here, plain, with raisins, or with caraway seeds. A well-rounded, evenly browned loaf that easily slices. Finely textured. Tangy, somewhat eggy flavor.
Southdown Marketplace, 205 Wall St., Huntington, NY 11743-2090 631-351-9660
Price $3.99. Weight 1 lb.
Ingredients: Not available.
This well-rounded loaf with a medium-course texture slices easily. Nice soda flavors, but also some sweetness.
Waldbaum’s, 60 Wall St., Huntington, NY 11743 631-351-8356
Waldbaum's, 711 E Jericho Tpke., Huntington Station, NY 11746 (631) 351-3553
Price $2.50. Weight 1 lb.
Ingredients: Unbleached, unbromated enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, enzymes, folic acid, water, raisins, sugar, palm oil, leavening (sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium bicarbonate). whey, dextrose, natural and artificial flavors, non-fat dry milk, salt, emulsifier (soybean oil with glycerol-lacto esters of fatty esters, mono and diglycerides), sodium caseinate, carboxymethyl cellulose, rye flour. Par baked or proofed and frozen by Wenner Bread Products of Bayport, and finished in the in-store oven. Certified kosher dairy. Sold with or without caraway seeds.
Crunchy top, but the crossmark is hard to discern. Buttery and sweet.
Wild By Nature, 369 W. Main St., Huntington, NY 11743 631-424-6480
Price $3.49. Weight 14 oz.
Ingredients: unbleached, unbromated high gluten flower, Florida Crystals (cane sugar), buttermilk, butter, raisins, caraway seeds, sea salt, baking powder.
Not much of a cross on this golden, round loaf. Somewhat cake-like in consistency. Slices easily quite easily. Most of the sweetness seems to come from the raisins.