March 25, 2015

Irish Soda Bread and Mischief Fairies


Bet you thought Irish Soda Bread was just good food. It’s delicious but did you know that the “x” at the top of the bread can also ward off pesky mischief fairies? Legend has it that putting the “x” on top before baking “lets the mischief fairies out” so they won’t jinx your bread; that “x” brings good luck. The original reason was most likely that it helped the bread expand while baking and made it easier to slice the hard crust into four quarters after baking, but scaring away “mischief fairies” and ensuring good luck is certainly an added benefit! Something to think about while you’re enjoying a slice with butter or jam.

To celebrate my part-Irish heritage this month, I made Irish soda bread and came upon the fascinating tidbit about mischief fairies while researching a little history to go with my recipe. Here are a few more crumbs of trivia:
  • Traditional Irish soda bread was baked in kitchens in cast iron pots called "bastibles" over open hearths rather than ovens. Offering freshly baked bread to your guests was considered a sign of respect. The Irish like to serve it with "lashings of butter." (now I know why I love butter so much, it's the Irish in me!)
  • The original recipe called for sour milk (the acid in sour milk mixed with baking soda would cause the bread to rise without yeast). Buttermilk has replaced sour milk in modern recipes.
  • Although versions of soda breads can be found in many cultures (it did not originate in Ireland), it became popular in Ireland during the potato famine of the 1800s because it could be easily made with few ingredients and was filling. Today, soda bread is often most associated with Ireland.
  • Another legend has it that Irish farmers' wives would wrap loaves of soda bread sometimes filled with fruit and/or whiskey and take them to those working in the fields, along with sweetened tea (or methinks something a tad bit stronger than just tea!).

One day I may explore why "mischief fairies" are bothering bread (hungry? bored?) but for now, here's a simple recipe I used when I made Irish soda bread. And don't forget the "x" on top or "mischief fairies" may visit!


Fairy Rings and Toadstools, Richard Doyle 1875 (image in public domain from wikiart)
After all that dancing those hungry fairies may be looking for your soda bread! 

Irish Soda Bread


Easy to make, no yeast. This is the traditional recipe using just four ingredients.

Ingredients:


  • 4 cups flour (any all-purpose flour or gluten-free alternative)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk (suggest 1% buttermilk for lighter texture since it’s a dense bread)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda.
  3. Slowly stir in the buttermilk, mixing until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball (dough will be a little sticky). If dough crumbles, add up to ½ cup more of the buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together. 
  4. Place dough on a lightly-floured board. Dust hands with a little flour and lightly knead to shape into a somewhat round but flattened loaf (similar to the shape in my photo of the baked bread). Don’t overprocess, just shape, a light touch works best. 
  5. Transfer loaf to the baking sheet. Using a small, sharp knife, make a deep X in the top of the dough (about ½ inch deep). If desired, brush top of loaf with melted butter or margarine.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for about 35 to 45 minutes, or until top of loaf is a golden brown. (I found that 40 minutes worked well for me, but ovens vary so you’ll know when it’s done by the golden brown color.)
You’ll have a loaf that is crusty on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside. A dense, rustic bread, perfect as a companion to stews or with jam or honey spread on it. Soda bread is best eaten in two days. Day-old slices can be warmed for a few seconds in the microwave.


Variations:

  • For a slightly sweet flavor, add a cup of raisins to the dough. This non-traditional version is called "Spotted Dog."
  • Make biscuits by breaking off equal portions of the dough and placing in a muffin tin (don't fill to the top, leave room to rise). Toss some raisins in the dough and you have "Spotted Pups."

Enjoy, and if any mischief fairies should stop by, just offer them some freshly baked bread and they'll be happy! 


©JerseyLils2Cents 2015

31 comments:

  1. Hi Madi, I love Irish Soda Bread! Never knew about the Mischief Fairies ... I'll have to be careful when I try out the recipe. As always, enjoyed your blog! Thanks for the info and the recipe!

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    1. Hi Jaime and thanks! I never knew about those mischief fairies either but when I found that legend trivia, I knew I had to add it to my recipe post, just seemed like so much fun. :)

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  2. What a great bit of trivia to go along with warm bread. I'm sorry I can't sign in, but it's your old michievious blogging buddy.

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    1. Thanks my long-time blogging buddy Donna! So glad you liked that bit of trivia. Hope you try the bread. I think your kids might like the spotted pups version with raisins. :)

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  3. The Irish bread may not be one of local origin but the bit about mischievous fairies is surely a topping Irish to the core. It is interesting how you keep discovering your predilections in your roots. I may ask my wiser half to have a look at the delicacy.

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    1. Umashankar, you are so right, mischievous fairies surely fit the legends of Ireland and the British Isles. I have paternal roots in that region of the world and I really love those stories. Thanks! :)

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  4. wonderful bread, wonderful story... I can't wait to try it. Thank you Madilyn.

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    1. Thanks Suzanne! :) I hope you make the bread and enjoy it!

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  5. Madilyn, you're not helping my diet with that wonderful picture of soda bread!
    Love the mischief fairies story.

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    1. Lily, I actually thought of you when I was posting this bread (oh, it’s so good but perhaps not for diets!) The story of the mischief fairies was so much fun I had to share, thanks, I’m happy you loved it! I love all those stories of elves, fairies and hobbits. :)

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  6. I love the history behind this---I never knew! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Marcia! The history behind Irish soda bread was so interesting and I learned something new when I discovered that legend too. :)

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  7. Oh wow, so there's no shortening in it like there is for scones. Thanks for this Madilyn, it certainly looks simple to prepare.

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    1. Georgette, thanks! The recipe is very simple and you even use it for biscuits as well as bread. Add raisins and other dried fruit too. It's really good with honey!

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  8. I'm going to have to try Soda Bread. Preferably hot with lashings of butter!

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    1. Hi Big D. The Soda Bread is perfect hot with lashings of butter, enjoy!

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  9. Madilyn... I have never tried this bread, I am going to take the recipe down and try it out... I will be sure to put a criss cross on it xox ... It is nice to see you blogging again.. Life can keep us rather busy... and time certainly flies by quicker than we know... I hope you come back sooner... Have a great weekend ahead xox

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    1. Launna, thanks! I’m so glad you’ll be trying this bread, it’s really good. Oh yes, do put that “x” on top. :) I hope to be blogging more often. Yes, life does keep us busy and time flies much too quickly. Wishing you a great weekend too!

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  10. I always like to hear the history as to why certain things are done or called particular names, so thanks for this post JerseyLil. One thing I do love is the old East End spotted dick with custard, so it would be nice to know if they taste the same or similar. Nice post and hope to pop by again soon.

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    1. Hi RPD and I’m so glad you stopped by! :) I am the curious sort and always interested in the history behind things too. I looked up that East End spotted custard, has more ingredients and it looks delicious, I’ll have to try it. Thanks!

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  11. Enjoyed the photos and learning about soda bread's history. The Irish farmers with the whiskey and fruit-laden loaves probably needed a looooong nap after their lunch break! Your recipe looks like a good one...I will give it a try.

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    1. Thanks Kris! I thought the history behind Irish soda bread was so much fun. I have a feeling those Irish farmers really enjoyed their whiskey and fruit-laden loaves! They probably would need a nap after that lunch lol! If you make the bread, let me know how you like it. :)

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  12. Hi Madilyn,
    This made me wonder if the famous 'hot cross' buns share the same meaning. You gotta love the Irish....they really think there are fairies at the bottom of the garden?! Seriously though this wonderful post is up to your usual high standard and makes reading your blog such a pleasure.....and it does make me wonder if I can get hold of some. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Neil and thanks! Well, now you’ve got me wondering about hot cross buns too, very interesting. :) I do love all those tales of fairies and elves, they’re so entertaining, and who knew there’d be a tale of mischief fairies in relation to bread lol! I hope you get to try some Irish Soda Bread.

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  13. Madilyn, I look forward to your next post when you have time... it isn't always easy with life as it is pretty busy xox

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    1. Hi Launna and thanks. You may see a new post sometime soon. :) Glad you stopped by! xox

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  14. Hi dear Madilyn!
    Your bread must be delicious!
    I haven't been active on the blogosphere and I won't be active for quite some time so I just wanted to pop in and say hi. I hope everything is well.
    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
    Hope and peace,
    Julia

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    1. Hi dear Julia, so good to hear from you! Thank you about the soda bread; it really was good and such an easy recipe. I remember you had written a while back that you’d be off the blogosphere while you’re writing and I hope your writing is going well, and that all is well with you!

      I will be moving my blog to WordPress, hopefully by the end of the month or so. I’ve been having problems for some time with too many glitches on the Blogger platform especially when posting multiple pictures. I’ve heard from others on WordPress that the WordPress platform is more user-friendly so I’m going to try it. When I move the blog, I’ll post on this page with the link to the new one.

      Have a fantastic weekend! Hope and peace to you too,
      Madilyn

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