I was a kid the first time I tasted Irish soda bread. The family was visiting an old friend in Florida, named Nelly. She’d invited us for dinner and made two things that were forever imprinted on my brain: a shameful but good casserole of cabbage and canned cream of celery soup, and her steamy, crumbly, fresh-from-the-oven Irish soda bread. It was a little salty and like a dry sponge for the butter…and unlike the casserole, well worth repeating. This version, perfect for any time of the year, has just a hint of sweetness.
4 cups flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp cold butter, cut into cubes 2 free-range eggs, beaten
1 3/4 cups cold kefir
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
In bowl of stand mixer, add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and blend on low speed with paddle attachment. Add butter all at once; continue to mix on low speed until butter is incorporated into the flour and has a pebbly look, about 3 minutes.
In small bowl, beat together eggs, kefir and zest. With mixer still on low setting, pour egg mixture into flour mixture; beat until well combined. Add cranberries; beat just to combine. Don’t be alarmed—this is a wet dough.
Tumble dough onto well-floured surface, and with floured hands, knead it a bit to form a rustic round. Transfer to prepared cookie sheet.
With tip of sharp knife, cut deep X shape across top of dough.
Bake until cake tester comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. To up your bread-baking skills, turn loaf over and tap bottom; listen for hollow sound. This is another way to tell when bread of any sort is done.
Transfer loaf to baking rack set over cookie sheet and parchment for glazing.
To make glaze, add maple syrup, icing sugar and orange juice to small bowl; blend well. Drizzle over hot loaf. Let cool somewhat on baking rack, but serve warm.
TIP Kefir is fermented and helps to make the loaf lighter and more open; buttermilk will do too.
TEXT, RECIPES, PHOTOGRAPHS AND FOOD STYLING BY SIGNE LANGFORD
From Hudson, Quebec, now living in Port Hope, Ontario, Signe is a restaurant chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: LCBO’s Food & Drink, Manna Pro Hearty Homestead, The Harvest Commission, and Today’s Parent; she published her first book – Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes – in 2015. She studied Fine Art History and Humanities at the University of Toronto, and York University; she graduated with honours from OCAD University; she earned her Wine Specialist Certificate from George Brown College.