Erin Go Argh

March 15, 2007 on 9:05 pm | By | In Food Musings, Recipes | 3 Comments

Irish Soda BreadI hate it when people steal my ideas.

With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, my plan was to post about my corned beef — which I must say is the best darned corned beef I’ve ever had (I’m SUCH a modest chef). Thinking it would be the perfect après Dash treat, I prepared it this past weekend. I snapped a few photos of the process, but by the time the brisket was fall-apart tender, I was too famished to waste any time being a shutterbug.

The next day, while everything still was delicious, it was far from photogenic. Besides, I now had eight famished runners waiting to scarf everything down. With no photo, I felt I should change the direction of my post. Granted, if you’ve seen one photo of corned beef, you’ve seen them all; most comfort food won’t win any beauty contests. But I feel if I’m to blog about a particular food, it should include photos of said food.

Back to the cutting board.

I did, however, manage to take a quick shot of the Irish soda bread. Although I recall we always had corned beef and cabbage each St. Patrick’s Day, what sticks in my mind was my mom’s Irish soda bread. Frankly, I always felt it was best hot out of the oven (left to sit it got rather dry), but it still brought back such fond memories. I’d never attempted to make it myself, so this year I decided to give it a shot. I found a 4-fork recipe on Epicurious that sounded promising and got to whisking. My only deviation from the original recipe was to use currants instead of raisins.

Let me tell you, this bread is to die for. Tender, moist and sweet enough to be dessert, it no where near resembles the soda bread of my youth. My darling and I tried to use some restraint (I intended to save some for the next day), but we gobbled down half the loaf. I was thrilled to find out that our hostess for our gathering already had a couple of loaves, as that meant I could keep the rest of my bread for ourselves.

So, what’s all this nonsense about people stealing my ideas?

Well, I kept thinking about my mom’s Irish soda bread. Was it indeed vastly different than what I made, or was my memory faltering? When she rattled off the main ingredients — bran cereal (more on that later), molasses, white & whole wheat flour, no sugar — the answer was clear: her version produced a hearty and dense loaf, while mine was more of a light and airy cake. I now had the focus of my blog post: the great Irish Soda Bread Cook-off! But then I see Melissa Clark of the New York Times has somewhat the same idea. DARNITALLTOHELL.


So, back to the soda bread. The Epicurious version comes together easily; follow the recipe and you’ll have yourself a scrumptious treat (or follow any of the deviations listed in the reviews and you’ll still have a scrumptious treat).

Now for my mom’s version. When she first said to use bran cereal, I asked her if she meant wheat or oat bran. No, she meant bran cereal — the stuff that looks like little worms. However, she soaks the cereal with the molasses and buttermilk so that it becomes mushy. Okay, that makes sense. Although her original recipe calls for 3 cups of all-purpose flour, she likes to use 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of all-purpose. So that’s what I’d be doing.

bran wormsThe only bran cereal my neighborhood grocery store carried was FiberOne, but I didn’t think it mattered what brand I used. I poured it into the bowl with 2 cups of buttermilk and let it sit for 10 minutes. When I checked it the cereal was still quite crunchy, so I let it sit an additional 20 minutes. When it STILL was crunchy, I called my mom to confirm it should turn to mush, but she was out. I soldiered on.

I whisked together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and added it to the wet ingredients, along with the currants and some caraway seeds (the latter isn’t included in my mom’s recipe, but I thought it would be a nice addition. Ever the rebellious daughter). The dough was flecked with the bran wormies, but I figured they’d be fun little crunchy tidbits. Once combined you’re supposed to knead the dough for a bit before placing it in a prepared pan. I assumed it would come together as a smooth ball, but as you can see, the dough stuck all over my hands. What happened? Did I write down the ingredients incorrectly? MOMMY! Sticky hand

I scooped up the blob with a pastry scraper and dumped it into the cake pan, patting it down with a spatula. I then threw it into a 300-degree oven for an hour, immediately regretting it as I was starving and was anticipating the pizza I had ready to go. (“Hi, my name is Betsy, and I’m a pizzaholic.”)

Just then my mom calls (turns out they WERE home, but my visiting sister had somehow unplugged the phone). She confirmed I had the correct ingredients/measurements, but did say the bran cereal should have dissolved into mush (she typically uses AllBran). Her dough comes out rather sticky, but perhaps the increased humidity we have here in Seattle exacerbated the problem. She also mentioned the recipe calls for wrapping the bread in waxed paper as it cools; a step she usually eliminates. Thinking it would help keep the loaf moist, I decided to try it.

The verdict? Another moist — yet very dense — Irish soda bread with just a hint of sweetness (you won’t confuse this with a cake). Although you can still see the bran worms, they no longer hold their crunch. The caraway seeds seemed out of place, however (I guess Mother really does know best). The bread fared well overnight, wrapped in a Ziplock bag. It seemed more dense than when it was fresh from the oven, but it’s still very moist. Two toasted slices with coffee made for a hearty breakfast.

Mommy Rogers’ Irish Soda Bread

Mom's bread

1 cup bran cereal, preferably AllBran
3 tablespoons molasses
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat, which has a less assertive taste)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins or currants
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spray an 8″ cake pan with cooking spray.

Mix bran cereal, buttermilk and molasses and let sit for 10 minutes, or until it becomes mushy (don’t worry if it doesn’t!). Whisk dry ingredients together and add to wet ingredients. Stir to combine. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.

Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead until well combined (dough will be quite sticky). Place in prepared pan, patting dough lightly so that it fills the pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan, wrap with waxed paper and set on rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Now for the corned beef.

I suppose I should be totally upfront and admit it’s not my creation; I just used the basic James Beard recipe on Epicurious. However, I followed several recommendations in the reviews — add a bottle of Guinness to the boil and finish it off with a bourbon, brown sugar and Dijon glaze.

The corned beef I buy from Whole Foods is house-cured and nitrite-free, so it doesn’t have the characteristic red color. It’s spendy (what else would you expect from Whole Foods?), but sooooo delicious (and wouldn’t you know it — it went on sale the day AFTER I bought my 6-pound behemoth).

Because I had such a large, wide slab I hauled out my 8 1/2 quart braiser. (For smaller cuts I use my multipurpose cooker with the steamer insert to make it easier to pull out the veggies in the end. It also keeps the meat from floating). Although you could remove the fat layer from the brisket, I prefer to keep it on so that it keeps the meat moist while braising. Cover with water, add the Guinness and bring to a boil. Reduce to a fast simmer and cook for approximately 1 hour per pound (skim the scum off the top, if necessary). My corned beef kept floating, so I came up with an ingenious solution:

Corned Beef

Remove the brisket and place on a cutting board. Remove the fat layer and place the brisket in a glass baking dish. Mix 1/2 cup apple juice, 1/2 cup bourbon, 2 T. Dijon and 3/4 cup brown sugar. Pour glaze over brisket and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. Meanwhile, strain braising liquid and place back in pan. Add a few quartered Yukon Gold potatoes and 4-5 peeled carrots, cut into 2″ pieces. After 20-25 minutes, add wedges of green cabbage and cook until tender. Serve with corned beef. (For an extra-yummy treat, mix a bit of horseradish with sour cream and serve alongside).


  1. Afterword from Mommy:I
    I also used a different kind of bran this year which looked like little worms, and I thought they’d never soften, but they did when it was baked, so all was well. This loaf is REALLY dense, but does taste good on this once a year holiday. We’ll be at Aunt Martha’s for dinner tomorrow,so she’llbe cooking the corned beef and cabbage’ but yours sounds SO good.
    Your Dad has made a trifle with raspberries and lady fingers for dessert.We just had another storm so a dinner party here was cancelled for tonight’ but we hope to see Uncle Manley’ and Stuart and Lesley there tomorrow.
    Love from Mom.

    Comment by Jay Rogers (mommy) — March 17, 2007 #

  2. Erin go blog to ya,

    The sody bread was tasty although i remember it being more pale and dry as a kid. I think the whole grain helped. Now dilly bread, that was my all time favorite that mom made. I found a recipe online somewhere. this recipe had cottage cheese in it and a lot of dill seeds. Quite a hit at my soup sunday group.


    Comment by Kimberly — March 17, 2007 #

  3. What mom and dad forgot to say was that the trifle had triple sec in it too which was a surprise to a tee-totaller guest that hadn’t had a drink in years. The rest of us gobbled it up with gusto.

    She pretty much had the same face that I had a a potluck one year when I found out that someone put “special ” butter on swiss chard. (Now I know why they call it pot-luck) I fretted for the next week at work that I would get randomly tested.


    Comment by Kimberly — March 18, 2007 #

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