The April Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den . She challenged us to Spring into our kitchens and make Easter breads reflecting cultures around the world.
I had a few ideas about what I wanted to make….chocolate and citrus hot cross buns? Savory braided bread with turmeric-dyed eggs? I am American, so any Easter breads from my ‘culture’ came from immigrants who landed in this country. My maternal bloodline is English, but my dad’s side of the family immigrated here only a few generations back with my great-great grandfather from County Clare in Northern Ireland. Although I’m not Christian, I decided to make the crossed loaf as a nod to my heritage and to the little stories and mementos of that journey that have fascinated me since I was a child.
Soda bread is amazing. To my regret, it took me years to find out this simple fact. It always sounded dry and flavorless to me as a kid. I figured that the operative flavor was the baking soda and having licked enough spoons during my childhood baking antics, I was pretty sure that that was not a taste I wanted anywhere near my mouth. Sometime when I was in high school, my dad bought a loaf, sliced and toasted it and slathered it with butter. Drawn into the kitchen by the delicious smell, I took a bite and was hooked. When he explained that it was soda bread, my mind was pretty much blown. I don’t think that loaf lasted more than an hour…
While researching for this project, I was surprised how simple soda bread is to make and also how little sugar is required (1 tsp in most loaves). I decided to make mine completely sugar-free and fill it with naturally sweet, dried fruits like dates and figs. Instead of the traditional caraway, I used flaxseed, a superfood you’re probably already familiar with. I even replaced some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, making this Irish Easter bread a more nutrient-rich and flavor-full loaf.
Enjoy with butter, honey, jam, as part of a sweet-and-savory grilled cheese, with soup or salad, at teatime, for breakfast, as a midnight snack, any day of the year! Acknowledgements to the sources I read for their ratios, information and tips:
The Irish Genealogy Toolkit
Date, fig and flax Irish soda bread
2 c unbleached white pastry flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 heaving tsp baking soda
2 dried figs, small dice
2 medjool dates, small dice
1 Tbs flax seeds
1/2 tsp dried orange peel
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus a little for brushing
Preheat the oven to 450F and lightly oil a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda and salt. Add the dried fruit, flax seeds and orange peel and mix to incorporate. Add the buttermilk and knead with clean hands. It may look dry, but it will come together. Shape your dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet. Using a gentle sawing motion, cut a cross into the top of the loaf and brush lightly with buttermilk. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the center of the cross looks dry, a toothpick in the center comes out clean and the bread makes a hollow sound when rapped. Allow to cool on a cooling rack for ten minutes before slicing. Serve warm with butter and jam.
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