Several years ago, I decided to honor my Irish heritage by cooking corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. My family still talks about this meal. Unfortunately, their comments aren't positive. My husband didn't like the cooked cabbage or carrots. My son thought the cabbage made the house smell bad and, like his father, didn't like the cooked cabbage or carrots. This year, I decided to make something a little sweeter for St. Patrick's Day: a loaf of Irish Soda Bread.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread consists of four ingredients: flour, soda, buttermilk and salt. American versions of the recipe usually contain additional ingredients such as butter, eggs, sugar and sometimes currants, raisins or caraway seeds. These additions make a more cake-like bread.
Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread which isn't the same thing as batter bread. Quick breads don't require kneading or rising because they're leavened with something other than yeast. Batter breads don't require kneading either, but they use yeast as the leavening agent.
There are two important rules to remember when you make quick bread. One, have all the ingredients at room temperature. This makes it easier to combine the ingredients which is important for the second rule. Two, don't overmix the dough. Overmixing produces a tough loaf of bread.
The bread starts by mixing the dry ingredients together. This recipe uses baking powder and baking soda as the leavening agents. Most baking powder is double acting which means it releases gas when it's mixed with a liquid and again when exposed to heat. On the other hand, baking soda must be mixed with an acid in order to work as a leavener.
Once the dry ingredients are mixed together, the margarine is cut into the mixture with a pastry blender. Normally, when you cut butter or margarine into dry ingredients, the mixture turns into coarse crumbs. Not so with this recipe because you're only adding 1/2 cup margarine to 4 cups of flour. Blend the margarine into the dry ingredients until there aren't any clumps of margarine remaining.
Normally, you don't knead quick bread. This recipe is an exception because you need to shape the dough into a round. Out of all the bread doughs I've worked with, this has been the easiest to knead. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and knead it three or four times. This is all it takes for the dough to stick together. Shape the dough into a round and transfer to a greased baking sheet.