This classic Irish quick bread – no rising time needed – lends itself to numerous creative variations. Traditional recipes often call for nothing but flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk or yogurt. Currants are a common addition, but that’s just the start. Any number of seeds, nuts, chopped dried fruit and even chocolate can be added.
For our take on soda bread, we decided to have a little of everything. We started with a rich take on the classic recipe, studding it with currants and caraway seeds. But then we swapped those out to make an oatmeal-rye version with walnuts and fresh thyme and chives. And for a sweet finish, we created a chocolate variation, adding a generous 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, dried cherries and dark chocolate.
To create your own variations, start with the basic recipe and leave out the caraway seeds and currants. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of seasonings and about 1 cup of dried fruit, nuts or seeds.
Irish Soda Bread Three Ways
4 cups white pastry flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dried currants, plumped in hot water
1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain regular yogurt (not Greek style)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a loaf pan or a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and caraway seeds, if using. While stirring, mix in the melted butter until small lumps form and the butter has been evenly distributed. Gently stir in the currants.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. All at once, pour the egg-buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Stir gently but thoroughly, just until the flour mixture is moistened. Do not over-mix the dough or the bread will be tough.
Scoop the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or cake tester inserted at the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Serve warm with butter or jam.
Yield: 12 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving: 270 calories, 7 grams fat (4 grams saturated, 22 percent total fat calories), 6 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams sugar, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 300 milligrams sodium.
Oatmeal-Rye Soda Bread with Herbs and Walnuts
Follow the recipe above, but instead of white pastry flour substitute 2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, 1 cup oatmeal and 1 cup rye flour. Omit the caraway seeds. In place of the currants, stir in 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives and 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts. Bake as directed.
Yield: 12 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving: 300 calories, 14 grams fat (5 grams saturated, 43 percent total fat calories), 8 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams sugar, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams dietary fiber, 300 milligrams sodium.
Follow the main recipe, but sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder into the dry ingredients in the first step. Also, increase the sugar to 2/3 cup and omit the caraway seeds. In place of the currants, stir in 1 cup chopped dried cherries and 1 cup chopped dark chocolate. Bake as directed.
Approximate nutrition per serving: 370 calories, 14 grams fat (8 grams saturated, 32 percent total fat calories), 7 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrate, 20 grams sugar, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 6 grams dietary fiber, 300 milligrams sodium.