Testing an Irish soda bread recipe: It's as delish as I remember

Full disclosure:  the first and last time I tested this recipe was in March 2009.  It helped to land me a pastry chef position at a local Oklahoma City bakery.  I was working at Deep Fork Grill as a prep cook at the time and was doing my damnedest to progress to full-time pastry.  I had never heard of Irish soda bread. Brian bought me the Baker's Illustrated Book which included a recipe for soda bread and there was a potential need for it, being St. Paddy's Day, at Deep Fork.  So I made it.  After I took it out of the oven, warm, I remember devouring it with my mentor, John Gatewood, slathered with a ginger peach jam I was experimenting with at the time.  Following my gut, I took a loaf to the owner at Prairie Thunder Baking Company.  

But that was a long time ago.

And here I am now.  Prairie Thunder closed.  Not quite knowing what the hell to do with myself. So the natural thing for me to do when I feel completely frustrated and out of my element is to visit my roots.  Hopefully to find myself again.

Today is St. Patrick's Day.  I remembered the soda bread.  Of course my first question is: "Is the recipe really as good as I remember or did I like it because I don't really have a point of reference for Irish soda bread?" Well, I still don't have a point of reference.  But.  I know what I like in bread.  I know good bread. And shitty bread.  I decided to revisit this recipe to re-evaluate it with the 8 years of pastry experience under my belt. (Really, 8 years of crash-courses in all things relevant to pastry and 8 years of f#@%&*$ up and having to trouble shoot and problem solve to achieve the correct results.)  Well, I haven't had another loaf of soda bread since, but, THIS is a good bread recipe.  Slightly dense but not a hint of gumminess.  Crusty, buttery outside.  Soft, pleasantly tender inside.  

So, this is my work space today.  Yes, this table.  And an old 1980's oven, of course.

It's around 4 o'clock.  The light is nice at this table.  It's in our dining room.  


Yes, there are tools that can make your life easier.  But if you are hell-bent like I usually am then you will find a way to make something spectacular and satisfying with what you have on hand.

So I made the recipe.

The recipe calls for cake flour but there's a flour hack to save you time and money.  Who uses cake flour ALL of the time anyway?  Use your trusted AP flour (I do STRONGLY recommend King Arthur or Gold Medal All Purpose) and measure out 1 cup of flour.  Take away 2 tablespoons of flour from the cup you measured and replace it with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Whisk it really well.  Now you have cake flour. 

I followed the recipe.  Mixing all the dry ingredients.  Incorporating the butter with my fingers. Very satisfying.  There's something about home baking that is very different from professional baking.  The pressure isn't there unless it's you putting it on yourself.

Next, the buttermilk.

Just as instructed, no over mixing.  The kneading will do the rest.

My pat of dough is about 7 inches, instead of 6 inches like the recipe instructed and more like 2 1/2 - 3 inches tall.  Next, scoring the dough.

Again, the recipe instructions are precise with the oven temp and baking time.  I baked the soda bread at 400 degrees fahrenheit for 20 minutes, rotated the sheet pan and then finished it with 20 more minutes of baking.  Perfect.

I pulled it out of the oven and brushed it with 2 tablespoons of melted butter instead of just 1 tablespoon as the recipe instructed.  I can't help myself because I was raised on bread and butter sandwiches.  

Recipe tested.  Baking itch satisfied.  Stomach full.  

Testing a cinnamon roll recipe: can it really be that damn good?