Brown soda bread offers nourishment, a rich flavor and is quite simple to prepare in any kitchen – emboldening the the repertoire of even the novice cook. While the Irish are known for their traditional soda bread which combines little else but flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda, many home cooks have adjusted the recipe with the inclusion of raisins, currants and other ingredients. This brown soda bread with currants and caraway is no exception.
A tradition that may predate the popularization of soda bread in 1840s Ireland, the combination of an acid (buttermilk) and a base (baking soda) creates a reaction that causes the bread to rise without aid of baking yeast or sourdough starter. Some evidence indicates that combining an acid with a base to leaven bread may have also occured in the Americas with the traditional methods of baking employed by Native Americans who used potash in place of baking soda and another acidic medium in place of buttermilk. Regardless of the method’s earliest origins, the Irish have, undoubtedly, made it their own. It is a fast, simple and humble bread that appealed to Ireland’s poor and working class families.
In my version of soda bread, I prefer to soak the flour – a soft wheat – with buttermilk overnight or longer. This practices helps to mitigate the effects of phytic acid, an antinutrient naturally found in whole grain that binds minerals and preventing their full absorption by the body. Soaking flour in an acidic medium, such as buttermilk or soured milk, for several hours not only improves the not only the digestibility of the grain, but also the body’s ability to absorb whole grain’s natural, full array of micronutrients. Moreover, soaking flour helps to acidify the dough which produces a pleasantly tender crumb when baked.
- 5½ cups whole grain white wheat flour, (preferably sprouted)
- 2 cups fresh, additive-free buttermilk, (preferably cultured at home, see sources for a starter culture)
- 1 cup dried currants
- whiskey, (to soak currants, optional)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp unrefined sea salt
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- Gently sift five and one-half cups soft white wheat flour, then stir two cups fresh buttermilk into the flour. Combine the flour and buttermilk well until the two are thoroughly mixed together to form a soft, shaggy dough. Cover well and tightly, allowing the dough to sit at room temperature overnight or up to eighteen hours – a process referred to as “soaking.”
- In a separate bowl or small container, pour out 1 cup dried currants then pour enough whiskey over the currants to cover them. If you do not have whiskey on hand, or do not wish to use it, cover the currants with filtered water brought to room temperature. Allow the currants to soak in the water for the same amount of time you allow the flour to soak in buttermilk – overnight to eighteen hours. While this practice doesn’t improve the nutrient profile of the currants, it does improve their flavor and texture.
- The next day, after the dough and currants have sufficiently soaked overnight or up to eighteen hours, strain the currants from the whiskey reserving the whiskey for another use as you see fit.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- While the oven preheats, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead one tablespoon caraway seeds, the whiskey-soaked currants, one teaspoon baking soda and one teaspoon unrefined sea salt into the dough.
- Flour your hands, as needed, and shape the dough into a nice, full and round ball. Cut a deep cross into the top of the dough.
- When the oven has reached a temperature of 425 degrees Fahrenheit, place the dough in the oven and bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes.
- After the soda bread has baked at 425 degrees for twenty-five to thirty minutes, reduce the heat of the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to bake for another fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool thoroughly before serving.