First Came The Irish Soda Bread Then Came The Bread Pudding

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on March 17, 2012

I have another confession to make…I’ve never made Irish soda bread. I know, I know…how could it possibly be that I have been a baker and Pastry Chef all of these years and never actually made this very delicious and easy annual staple? Well, today was the day that it was finally going to happen.

I did a good bit of research as I always do when I first start looking for recipes to experiment with. I try to find as much historical information about the item as possible and really love to see how the item evolves over time to incorporate more available ingredients.  More modern versions of quick breads, cakes and scones evolved into more tender versions than their original counterparts, simply because other ingredients like eggs and butter, became more readily available to everyone instead of just the upper class.

Soda bread has a long history rooted in tradition going back a few hundred years. It was originally created as an inexpensive way to make a quick bread, and was leavened with something called potash (or pearl ash), a potassium carbonate leavening popularized by the indigenous people of the Americas way before baking soda became available.

Soda bread made its appearance in Europe in the mid 19th century when bicarbonate of soda was offered as the new leavening agent of choice. Working class people who could not afford yeast came to rely on baking soda as a way to make their daily bread to feed their families. This type of product began to pop up all over Europe, but it was the Irish who came to be known for it mostly because the flour available in Ireland is comprised mostly of a soft wheat (lower protein level usually 8-10%), which results in a truly tender crumb that mimics a finely milled flour.

I have come across many modern day recipes that will add a small amount of cake or pastry flour in place of their all purpose flour, which yields a similar result.

While doing my research, I discovered a few interesting things about an authentic Irish soda bread. First, I found that it was generally made with whole wheat flour and did not include sugar, raisins, butter, eggs or baking powder. All of these ingredients were very costly, and not usually something that was available to the working class at the time. All of these modifications to the traditional recipe were added much later to modernize the bread and to make it more cake-y in texture to suit our needs and tastes of today.

But I was after a more traditional version…

I found a recipe on a blog called Chef In You, which had all of the original key ingredients but she happened to add in some raisins…I was ok with that because my plans were to convert the leftovers into something more decadent.

I made a few modifications to her recipe because I did not have a lot of whole wheat flour on hand (only about 2 cups), and actually had to add much more buttermilk than she suggested. Generally for bread type products you need 1 teaspoon of salt (but less for cakes) and 1 teaspoon of baking soda per 2 cups of flour, so I changed that too.

Surprisingly enough, the final result did not taste bad at all even though it was quite lean without the addition of any oil. It would make a great low carb substitution for those of us watching our waistlines.

It also worked great for what I turned the leftovers into…a decadent bread pudding with its own baked in Irish whiskey sauce.

I made a lovely whiskey caramel that I poured into a nonstick bundt and swirled around to coat the inside of the pan. Once the caramel had cooled, I added the cubed leftover pieces of soda bread and then added a super easy custard which I use as my go to crème brulee recipe…easy, fun to make and always delicious. No messing around with separate sauces, just bake it all in one pan and when it has cooled slightly and set, just invert it onto your serving platter and enjoy!

Traditional Irish Soda Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour (10 oz)

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour (10 oz)

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ cup raisins, presoaked in boiled water for 10 minutes

2 cups (16 oz) buttermilk

Add the raisins to 1 cup of boiling water and allow them to sit in the warm water to soften for about 10-15 minutes then drain. Scale out all of the dry ingredients and add them to a medium sized bowl, then pour in the buttermilk and gently begin to fold the dough together…when it has almost come together, fold in the raisins. DO NOT knead this dough as you would a traditional bread dough with yeast. If you knead this, then you will push out all of the gas produced by the baking soda and have a more dense final product…so, when working with this, simply fold the dough onto itself until it comes together. You can mold it into a round loaf but I chose to bake it in a bread loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 30-40 minutes until the center tests clean and dry. Allow to cool and then slice and enjoy.

Whiskey Caramel

1 stick butter

½ cup Irish whiskey

1 cup sugar

¼ cup corn syrup

Add the sugar and whiskey together in a small pot and stir until well combined. Then melt the butter in the microwave and add to the pot along with the corn syrup. Cook everything together for about 10 minutes until the caramel begins to set. You can test this by putting a tablespoon into the caramel while still cooking an allowing it to cool slightly then checking the thickness. It should become a firm and chewy toffee but not get hard completely.

Pour the caramel into your baking dish of choice. I poured it into an ungreased bundt pan and swirled it around to evenly coat the sides and bottom of the pan.

Crème Brulee

2 can of condensed milk

2 can of evaporated milk

12 large yolks

4 teaspoons of vanilla

**this quantity of custard will be enough for the entire loaf. If you are using leftovers of the bread, you can make half of the recipe instead.

Add all of the ingredients to a medium sized bowl and mix well. Once mixed, strain the liquid into a large measuring cup and set aside.

To make bread pudding:

Make the caramel and coat the inside of your baking dish of choice. Once the caramel has cooled, add in your leftover Irish soda bread cubes. I had some chocolate ganache on hand, and added this to the cubed pieces, but you can add ½ cup of chocolate chips if you like. Pour your prepared custard over the cubed Irish soda bread. Allow this mixture to sit for about 10 minutes so that the bread absorbs the custard. Put this pan into a larger dish that you will now fill half way with hot water and bake in a 350°C for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until firm. Once ready, remove your baking dish from the hot water and place it onto a small sheet pan. Allow it to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When well chilled, invert onto a large serving platter making sure that it will also accommodate the sauce.


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