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Irish Quick Bread

A few weeks ago, I won an Irish-inspired recipe contest with my vegetarian Cottage Garden Pie. I ended up with a gorgeous cookbook, the James Beard Award-winner The Country Cooking of Ireland and about 8 pounds of Kerrygold cheese and butter!

To thank Amber, who ran the contest on her blog, I invited her and her husband over for an Irish meal based on the cookbook. I was also trying to showcase some of the butter and cheese, so the first recipe I marked was Broiled Salmon with Butter and Honey. Taylor’s Market always has gorgeous salmon, both wild-caught and farm-raised, so I bought some there. I had found beautiful first-of-the-season asparagus at the Davis Farmer’s Market, and I also made Molly Keane’s Cheese Pudding from the book. It was much like a cheese souffle, with breadcrumbs added.

To go with all this, though, I needed a bread. Many years ago, when I worked at a restaurant in Delaware, we made Irish soda bread from scratch every day. It’s one of the few quick breads I’ve made that is truly savory and somewhat mimics the texture of dense yeast bread. Since I have a huge thyme bush in my garden, I chose a recipe using thyme. The buttermilk adds tanginess to the finished bread, and the thyme is fragrant and not overwhelming, despite using 3 tablespoons! It’s so easy to make, you get warm home-baked bread in less than 1 hour.

Kitty’s White Soda Bread with Thyme
From The Country Cooking of Ireland

Makes 1 loaf

3 1/2 cups/350 g white flour, preferably Irish or unbleached pastry flour [I actually used unbleached all-purpose]
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 to 2 cups/360 to 475 ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F/230 degrees C (Gas Mark 8).

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl. Mix in the thyme.

Form a well in middle of flour mixture and pour at least 13 oz/385 ml of buttermilk into the well. Form your hand into a rigid claw and stir the buttermilk into the flour slowly but steadily in a spiral motion, starting in the middle and working outwards. Add more of the buttermilk if necessary. The dough should be soft but not too wet or sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead lightly; then flour your hands and shape the dough into a flat round about 1 1/2 in/4 cm thick. Cut a deep cross in the top of the load with a wet or floured knife, then put on a lightly floured baking sheet [I put on a preheated pizza stone] and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C (Gas Mark 6) and bake 20 minutes more, or until nicely browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

[I let it cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing and serving with salted butter. Heaven!]


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