I had planned to bring with me today an authentic Irish Soda Bread. I had done some research. I could’ve told you that soda bread first appeared in Ireland in the 19th century, when baking soda was invented; that caraway seeds are strictly optional; that raisins make traditional Irish Soda Bread more Americanized; that sometimes, when raisins are added, the bread is called “Spotted Dog”; and that the cross you slash into the bread before baking is really less of a religious symbol than a handy outline for portioning the loaf once it’s baked.
But at some point, deep in my research, I came across Brown Butter Soda Bread. Now. Brown butter can stop me in my tracks, but when I clicked the link and read the recipe—Rosemary! Black Pepper! Oats!—I remembered the complicated relationship I’d had with Irish Soda Bread as a child, loving the taste but also being just the tiniest bit disgusted by the combination of raisins and caraway. Maybe I overdid it one time and swore I would never eat Irish soda bread again or something; not that I remember anything like that ever happening…
The rosemary flavor is subtle, but the fragrance wafts from the loaf as you break it apart, inviting you—No, when you smell this rosemary, buttermilk scented bread, it demands you dig in; it holds you hostage, helpless, because it knows you have no power to resist.
Then there’s the black pepper. If you’re not a fan of the spice, you could always reduce the amount, or omit it altogether, and I think you’d still have a great bread; but to me, the black pepper is icing on the cake. A heaping spoonful to the dough, plus a sprinkling on top, provides heat throughout, allowing every bite a peppery pop. With the proper Irish “lashing” of good butter slathered onto each slice, it’s the perfect combination of rich and spicy.
Rosemary Brown Butter Soda Bread
from Bon Appétit, February 2006
makes 2 loaves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten to blend
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.
Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.
Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
You’ll get the most tender soda bread by kneading the dough gently and briefly, just until it comes together, so the gluten is minimally developed.