Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Soda Bread with a Special Nod to St. Joseph

It seems to me that St. Patrick's Day (March 17) overshadows St. Joseph's Day (March 19) by a mile. The greeting card stores are fully stocked with St. Pat's Day cards with only a few dedicated to St. Joe. The wine and spirit merchants are busy hawking dozens of Irish brews, whiskeys, and cream liqueurs. The "wearing o' the green" extends to shamrock festooned socks, but I have yet to see a red pair devoted to St. Joseph. Then there are the St. Paddy's Day parades, the music, and of course, the requisite Irish Soda Bread. Oh, sure - you'll see a "St. Joseph's Day Table" here and there, particularly in ethnic neighborhoods - but unless your Roman Catholic parish is hosting such an event, you'll likely miss it altogether. The real loser is poor St. Edward the Martyr who gets caught in the middle with his feast day being March 18. St. Ed wasn't even a martyr in the strict sense but he defended his faith nonetheless and he gets swept under the carpet (sort of like having your birthday on Christmas).

Irish Soda Bread - preferably with lots of butter - is my favorite part of St. Patrick's Day. I like Corned Beef and Cabbage (the horseradish being the best part of that deal) and I've been known to down a pint or two - but Soda Bread is irresistible and comforting - with raisins or not, white flour or whole wheat, or with caraway seeds - I never met one I didn't savor.

Wanting to give St. Joseph his due, I decided to devise a soda bread that would pay him homage. The answer? Dried cherries! A bit of red in the midst of all that green! Dried cherries are a wonderful addition to many recipes. My friend Jim bakes fabulous Chocolate-Cherry Biscotti. I like dried cherries in Chocolate Chip Cookies and they're good in many savory dishes, too - especially with pork and lamb. Dried cherries are easy to find - American Spoon Foods, Target Stores (Archer Farms brand), and Trader Joe's are good places to start. If you cannot find them, dried cranberries are a good substitute.


1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder (be sure it's fresh!)
1/2 teaspoon non-iodized salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted cool butter
3/4 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon very soft butter

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and blend well with a wire whisk. Using a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the dried cherries. Add the buttermilk and blend well. Knead the dough - about 5 or 6 times - on a floured board until it just comes together. Do not overknead. Shape into a round loaf. Using a sharp knife, cut an X on top of the loaf about 1/2" deep. Rub the top with the soft butter.

Place the loaf on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.