Pecan and Cherry Irish Soda Bread
Mama G. (aka Leann Grunwald) on the sweet history of a delicious family staple.
Irish soda bread is a prized recipe that’s usually passed down from generation to generation. A quick bread made with baking soda as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast breads, traditional Irish soda bread recipes started showing up around the 1840s.
From the earliest times, bread making was an integral part of daily life in almost every home. Families lived in isolated farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant fires. This method resulted in a loaf that was tender and dense, with a slight sour tang and a hard crust. Being quite perishable, it was made every few days and eaten with the main meal, not as dessert.
Traditionally Irish soda bread is made with only the most basic of ingredients: flour, baking soda, soured milk to moisten and activate the soda, and salt. Before baking, a cross was cut on the top with a knife, as a symbol of protection for the household.
Soda bread is shaped and baked based on the region in which it is being prepared. In the southern regions, it’s shaped and baked as a round loaf with a cross marked on top. In the northern regions of the country, the soda bread is flattened into a round disc and divided into four equal triangular shapes, then cooked quickly on a flat griddle. Irish soda bread is broken off into sections, then split and buttered warm.
The aroma and taste of traditional soda bread is unique, and it’s even better when paired with dried cherries and pecans. Here’s one of our family’s treasured Irish soda bread recipes. Enjoy!
Mama’s Pecan and Cherry Irish Soda Bread
4 ½ cups flour
4 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup cold unsalted cubed butter
1 ¾ cups cold buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tsp. grated orange zest
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup pecans/roasted optional
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Add the butter and mix on low speed until the flour mixture resembles coarse meal.
In a separate bowl, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup.
With the mixer on a low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the cherries and walnuts and mix into the dough. Walnuts can be very slightly roasted ahead of time, and added into the dough for added decadence.
Place dough onto a floured board and knead gently into a round loaf. Do not over knead. Transfer dough to a large, lightly greased cast-iron skillet and gently cut an X into the top of the bread.
Bake 35 to 45 minutes. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with cinnamon sugar compound butter.
Cinnamon Sugar Compound Butter
1 stick butter
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbs. sugar
Mix in food processor or hand mixer and place the mixture into butter mold or roll in parchment paper. Pop back into refrigerator until ready to enjoy!
- Check for doneness by inserting a long, thin skewer into the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done.
- If the top is getting too dark while baking, tent the bread with some aluminum foil.
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