When I was little, my mother had a tea towel with a map of Ireland on it, and the map was crammed with family names so you could find which county your ancestors came from. For St. Patrick’s Day she used to tuck that towel into a basket and fill it with wedges of Irish Soda Bread, but I never cared for the bread—I just liked the game of finding our ancestors. Now that I’ve come to appreciate the unusual sweet caraway flavor, I’ve also learned there are as many variations on the recipe as names on that towel.
Some soda breads are savory, made with whole wheat flour and a smattering of other grains. In my family we prefer ours sweet, like a giant scone with a buttery sugar crust. Traditionally soda bread is dotted with currants, but my mother, when she became a Californian, switched to plump golden raisins. Across the board the one thing that seems to connect all soda breads is a lot of caraway. Aunt Betsy, my grandmother’s sister, always insisted on three tablespoons of seeds, so that’s how much we toss in.
Over the years my mother has made Aunt Betsy’s recipe her own. (The golden raisins would probably have Betsy turning over in her grave, but we love them anyway.) It’s delicious for breakfast—or, if you want to really play Irish, have it with your afternoon tea.
Irish Soda Bread
makes one 9-inch round loaf
3 cups flour 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons caraway seeds 1 box (15 oz.) golden raisins 3/4 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil) 1 2/3 cups buttermilk 1 large egg 2 tablespoons butter, melted Coarse or raw sugar for sprinkling over top
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan or skillet that is at least 2 1/2 inches deep.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and caraway seeds. Stir in the raisins until they are well-coated with the flour mixture.
Add the oil to the flour mixture and stir until it is well incorporated.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. Your batter should be quite wet.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Using a sharp knife, cut a deep x in the batter. Then drizzle the melted butter over the top (using a pastry brush, if necessary, to distribute it evenly—it might pool up a little, but it will form a nice crust in the oven). Sprinkle generously with coarse sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown and completely set. Let cool for ten minutes or so before turning it out of the pan. Delicious while warm!