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.
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