Baking home-made bread provides immense satisfaction and even though I have made bread on many occasions I feel a great sense of pride when taking a freshly baked loaf from the oven… every single time. When entertaining I might spend hours preparing for a dinner party and carefully laying the table, but once the home-made bread appears before the guests… all other efforts fade in comparison. With the heavenly baking aromas I would bake fresh bread everyday, but I know I (and the rest of the family) would be the size of a house if I did.
“Bread is the warmest, kindest of words. Write it always with a capital letter, like your own name.” – Russian Cafe Sign.
A variation of traditional Irish soda bread (which uses plain flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk), this sweet soda bread recipe is not complicated to make, soft flour is used, there’s no yeast involved and no lengthy proving or kneading of the dough is necessary. I wanted to sweeten the soda bread and make use of some leftover dried cranberries and candied orange peel from Christmas. Soaking the cranberries in strong Earl Grey tea is optional, I like to add a little extra flavour where I can. Incorporating butter into the bread improves its keeping qualities… but rest assured it wont be hanging around for very long.
Fresh full-fat laban (yoghurt drink) is used to replace buttermilk as this is what’s readily available and work’s perfectly fine. If you are unable to find buttermilk or laban you can sour some full-fat milk with lemon juice (1 cup of milk to 2 to 3 teaspoons of lemon juice), let the mixture stand at room temperature for 10 minutes or until the milk thickens slightly and has visible curds, over at TheKitchn you can find other substitutes for buttermilk at the bottom part of their post.
Handle the bread dough with care, only the lightest of kneading and pats are required to smooth (not ultra smooth) and shape the dough. The hardest part is resisting the temptation to keep working at the dough as it feels so soft and pliable in your hands. Overworking the dough will cause the bread to become tough. According to Irish folklore cutting a deep cross on top of the bread lets the fairies out (anyone know what they were doing there in the first place?) or for warding off the devil and blessing the bread. 🙂 The deep cross makes sure the bread bakes quickly and evenly in the center.
Enjoy this sweet soda bread with slices of mature cheddar cheese and a little sweet pickle or eat with a generous spreading of butter… or keep it plain and simple and enjoy a thick slice with a nice mug of hot tea.
Irish Soda Bread with Dried Cranberries and Candied Orange Peel
- 50g dried cranberries
- 4 tablespoons of strong Earl Grey Tea
- 450g plain or all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 15g of chilled butter
- 25g candied orange peel, chopped finely
- 300 to 350ml of laban or buttermilk (approximately)
How to make: Soak the cranberries in the hot tea for about 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Fan200ºC/Gas 7. Sieve the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Cut the chilled butter into little pieces and with your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the candied orange peel and mix.
Make a large well in the center of the flour and pour in most of the laban followed by the cranberries and soaking liquid. With a wooden spoon quickly and gently mix from the center outwards, incorporating the dry flour as you mix. Use the rest of the laban if necessary and mix to a soft dough.
Turn dough out on to a lightly floured worktop and knead very lightly (a few seconds), only to shape the dough in to a round about 1-1/2 inch thick. Place the bread dough on a lightly floured baking tray and using a sharp, well floured knife, cut a deep cross on top. Bake at above temperature for the first 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 200ºC/400ºF/Fan180ºC/Gas 4 for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is cooked and sounds hollow when tapping the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: If you like a soft crust (which I do), wrap the bread in a clean cloth while cooling. Best eaten on day of baking.