I have a giant soft spot for seasonal dishes that harken in their respective events with a hefty dose of nostalgia and a reassuring piece of consistency. I adore those spicy-sweet gingersnaps with doughy soft centers that magically appear in early December. I could endlessly nosh on those divine and sugary icing-crossed buns that crop up in April, just before Easter. And who is not overcome with sheer joy when sinking their teeth into the first cinnamon-y pumpkin spiced cupcake of the fall (I legitimately come thisclose to shedding tears).
I think these things are all so special because they serve as little reminders that despite everything that is going on around us, life goes on and moves us forward just as it always has and always will. They’re small tokens of regularity that help keep us centered as we navigate our way from one harried day to the next, month to month, from season to season, year after whirlwind year.
Consuming these foods out of turn would almost defeat their purpose. After all, peppermint bark is nothing more than a glorified Andes Candy and Egg Nog little more than a gussied up milkshake – but if we toasted with Nog in June and capped off our meals with bites of bark in July, they would become entirely typical and lose their nostalgic significance all together.
We are rocketing through two-thousand-eleven (!) at breakneck speed, and I was admittedly caught off guard yesterday to spy vendors setup on street corners hawking fuzzy green antennae and flashing ‘Kiss Me’ necklaces. St. Patty’s Day has come and gone, and as the Luck O’The Irish would have it, we were afforded the opportunity to enjoy our green beers and corned beef sandwiches on a positively balmy fifty-two degree March day.
Like the good McIrish girl I am, I made a loaf of Irish Soda bread yesterday to have this morning for breakfast (and possibly also as a post-sushi-dinner dessert last night…just a little slice). If you aren’t familiar with it, Irish Soda bread is a very common Irish table bread that was traditionally made with flour, bread soda, buttermilk, and salt. The bread has been tweaked and adjusted of course over the years, and now it is most common to find Americanized “Irish” Soda Breads in the markets that have been sweeted with sugar and studded with raisins.
Growing up I remember having pieces of soda bread at school and at home only on St. Patty’s Day — I have to say though, after making this most recent loaf, I’ve decided that this is one tradition where I’ll be breaking the rules and making it year round. It is so easy to make that even after imbibing a few pints of Guinness this cakey bread would be virtually impossible to screw up (not that I am advocating that of course, *wink wink*). I veered off course from even the sanitized American versions and swapped in dried cranberries for the raisins and added lots of fresh lemon zest. Brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with sugar, the result was outstanding – a lemony scone-like bread with a lightly sweet crisped and golden crust punctuated by soft and sweet cranberries.
Hot from the oven (and – OK fine, I lied above, BEFORE my sushi dinner) I cut myself a nice fat wedge and spread it with a thick layer of honeyed butter which promptly melted and settled into the sweet crevices. There is surprisingly little butter in this bread – only three and a half tablespoons in the entire loaf – so it’s really fairly light and perfect for breakfast or a snack. With a mug of coffee or cup of hot tea it’s a sweet way to toast to St. Pat’s, or any day for that matter, with minimal effort and fuss.
Make this. You’ll really, really like it, and its really, really easy. I am already plotting a cinnamon-sugar version for brunch this weekend.
Lemon Cranberry Irish Soda Bread with Honey Butter
Adapted extremely liberally from Bon Appetit, February 2005
Makes 1 Round Loaf, Serving 8
I added and changed so many things with this recipe and really love the way it came out. I added an half Tbsp butter just to ensure the cake was moist (I’m not a fan of overly dry anything), so I’m sure if you dialed yours back to 3 Tbsp you’d still be totally cool.
2 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar, divided + extra for sprinkling (about 1 additional Tbsp)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup Dried cranberries
1/2 cup Hot water
Juice and Zest of one lemon
1 egg, beaten
Serve with Honey Butter (Below)
Preheat oven to 375F. Place the dried cranberries, hot water, and juice from the lemon into a small bowl, and let the berries soften. Cut a piece of parchment to fit into a 8″ round cake pan, and place inside. Lightly butter the parchment.
Whisk the flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add the butter, and using your fingertips rub the butter into the dry ingredients until a coarse meal forms. It will be very dry – that is just what you want.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the buttermilk and the lemon zest. Gradually the stir dry ingredients into the milk with a spatula to blend until they are just combined (do not overmix – mix only until the ingredients just come together, otherwise your bread will be tough). Once combined, drain the cranberries and discard the liquid. Squeeze them to remove any excess moisture, and add them to the dough. Carefully and gently fold them in.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and flour your hands. Gently pull it into a ball, smooth it out (it doesn’t need to be perfect, just relatively smooth) and transfer to the prepared pan. Flatten slightly (dough will not come to the edges of pan), and brush the top with the beaten egg (I used a pastry brush). Sprinkle the bread with the remaining sugar, and gently cut a shallow “X” shape into the top with a butter knife.
Bake the bread until it is light golden brown and a tester inserted into center comes out clean (with no raw dough), just about 40 minutes — check it around 30 minutes however to avoid overcooking (mine took just under 40 minutes). Cool the bread in pan 10 minutes, then gently transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with the butter.
4 Tablespoons (1/2 a stick) butter, room temperature
2 Tablespoons Honey
Place the butter in a small bowl, and mash with a fork. Add the honey, and stir well to combine. Smooth out with a spoon, and place back in the fridge to firm up, about 45 minutes.