irish soda bread with raisins and cranberries

I did a little holiday baking on my day off from my internship today.  St. Patrick’s Day is later this week, but I won’t have a lot of time to putter around in my own kitchen on that day so we’re having our Corned Beef and Cabbage tonight instead.  And of course, I had to bake Irish Soda Bread too.  I don’t really eat soda bread with the meal but usually have it with tea (or coffee!) during the week.

Typically, I make American-style Irish Soda Bread — that is, I add caraway seeds.  I just like the way they make the bread taste, although I know they aren’t to everyone’s liking.  This year, however, I opted to try a new twist.  No caraway seeds, but (and this was an epiphany to me) the raisins and dried cranberries are soaked in Irish whiskey!  Tell me, what says St. Paddy’s Day better than a little Jameson’s in your soda bread?

I found the recipe on Serious Eats, and converted the recipe’s volume measurements into weight because I prefer scaling my ingredients to washing a lot of measuring cups.  I also used dried buttermilk powder (I use Saco) rather than fresh buttermilk.  It’s great stuff — you add the powder to the dry ingredients and add the appropriate amount of water when you incorporate the wet ingredients.  Store it in the refrigerator and you don’t have to worry about wasting half-used cartons of fresh buttermilk.  You can also substitute soured milk (1 tablespoon of white vinegar per 8 oz. of milk, stirred and left to rest for 5 minutes before using), but I think the buttermilk powder yields better results.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries and Raisins
(adapted from Serious Eats)


1/2 cup (2.25 oz.) dried cranberries
1/2 cup (2.75 oz.) raisins
1/2 cup (8 oz.) Irish whiskey (or hot water)
4 cups (17 oz.) bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (1.5 oz.) honey
6 tablespoons (2 oz.) dried buttermilk powder
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) water

Combine the cranberries, raisins and whiskey (or hot water). Cover and set aside to rehydrate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and dried buttermilk powder. Whisk to combine. Cut the butter into slices, then work it into the flour with your fingertips until it is fully incorporated. Add the honey, water and the cranberries and raisins with the soaking liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the liquid is absorbed.

Flour your work surface lightly and turn out the dough. It will still be sticky — try to avoid adding more flour. It’s helpful to flour your hands and use a bowl scraper or a spatula blade to help you maneuver the dough around. Form the dough into a 6-8 inch disk about 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 inches high and place it on your prepared baking sheet. Cut an X in the top of the dough across the top, about 1/2 inch deep.

Bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes, until the bread is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack. If you like a softer crust. cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel as it cools.

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trying to get caught up

I made this Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread last month when we had a bumper crop of zucchini, including one 2 1/2-pound zuke. The recipe is from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. It has all good stuff in it — zucchini, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and grated lemon zest — not to mention it’s good for you. On paper, it’s a wonderful bread; it was moist and flavorful, qualities one doesn’t typically associate with whole grain baked goods. Sadly, for some reason it just didn’t hit the spot for me.

irish soda bread muffins

There’s something so much more appealing to me about muffins over their larger quick bread loaf cousins. Quick breads seem to dry out when they’re sliced, the slices don’t transport well and the serving size is inexact (my slices seem to exceed the recommended limit) and I would like to continuing baking while wearing my current clothing size. And maybe there’s just something about individually sized baked goods. Anyway, I was thinking about how it’s the time of year for Irish soda bread again when I saw the Baker’s Banter post on Irish Soda Bread Muffins. Perfect!

I adapted the recipe somewhat based on what I had at the ready in my kitchen. I substituted the same weight of 100% whole wheat flour for the white-whole wheat, even though I know that the whole wheat is slightly heavier than the white-whole wheat. I compensated for this by adding an additional tablespoon of milk to the batter. I also substituted dried cranberries for the currants/raisins, making it a truly Irish-American creation. The result was a slightly sweet, moist and tender muffin — perhaps a bit sweeter than I would’ve liked, but chockfull of cranberries. I wish now that I had added a bit more caraway seed (I love caraway) — the recipe suggested a possible range of 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons. I think it could’ve definitely used the additional teaspoon. All in all, this one is a definite keeper. Éire go Brách!

date nut bread

I am a big fan of dates. Apparently many people don’t care for them, but I find the inadulterated sugary sweetness of dates irresistable. And I find date nut bread to be pretty foolproof. I got my recipe from P.’s Auntie Norma many years ago — I’d had tasted some she had made and I was hooked. I never really questioned why the dates are soaked in boiling water before they go into the batter, but was told recently that it was because the recipe dates back to the Depression and soaking the dates and then adding them to the batter, water and all, was a way to make the bread moist without the need for a lot of butter. Whatever the reason, I love date nut bread, particularly toasted and with a little schmear of cream cheese!

cranberry-orange nut bread

I don’t know if this is true elsewhere in the country, but here in New England, come autumn you start to see fresh cranberries being advertised in the supermarket circulars. Once upon a time, some savvy cranberry marketing genius came up with the “buy two, freeze one” tagline, which was then placed on the cranberry packaging and in the supermarket ad copy. I am guessing that once the fresh cranberry supply runs out in the fall, that’s it for consumers who are looking for fresh or even frozen cranberries, or else why would we have to take it upon ourselves to preemptively scoop up the cranberries and hold them in our own home freezers?

I generally ignore such mandates from food packaging and advertising but this year, crazy manic baker that I’ve become, I decided this buying and freezing idea might have some merit. And as I usually make a cranberry relish from scratch at Thanksgiving anyway, buying 2 bags (I even considering buying 3 or 4) seemed pretty reasonable. As it turns out, I didn’t end up making my usual cranberry relish this Thanksgiving, so I ended up with 2 bags of cranberries in my freezer at the end of November. My thoughts turned to coming up with something to make with all the cranberries I had now burning a hole in my freezer and despite being the mostly delighted new owner of a side-by-side refrigerator, I was ever mindful that freezer space is always at a premium.

To my shock and surprise, I discovered that all those cranberry-themed recipes I had been imagining when I bought those fresh cranberries don’t actually require the use of fresh (or frozen) cranberries. The majority of the recipes called for dried cranberries, which are readily available year-round.

Part two of my thought process was that I’ve been contemplating different quick bread recipes to bake and give as gifts. I’ve never been a big fan of cranberry breads, largely because all the cranberry bread I’ve ever consumed has been off supermarket bakery catering platters and they were disgustingly artificial tasting and memorable only in that regard. But with 2 bags of cranberries staring me in the face, I decided to have faith in my culinary abilities and give cranberry bread another try.

I found a recipe for Cranberry-Orange Nut Bread in my King Arthur Flour cookbook and decided to give it a whirl. The recipe calls for fresh, frozen or dried cranberries, orange juice and extract (or if you’d rather, orange zest and juice), walnuts and buttermilk (as luck would have it, I still had some buttermilk left from making cornbread for Thanksgiving stuffing — oh joy!). The finished bread was moist and subtly orangey — not overwhelmingly orange with that fakey taste so prominent in the supermarket cranberry breads. The chopped cranberry and walnut bits didn’t overwhelm, which pleased my chunk-phobic husband. The bread was very light on sweetness, something that might not be true if I had made it with the dried cranberries (which are sweetened). Not being a typical cranberry bread fan I’m not sure I’d put it on my must-bake list (date nut bread would come first, for starters), but aficionados of tart fruit and nut breads might really enjoy this one.