Irish boiled dinners have long been a tradition in my house. As a matter of convenience and time management, the early years found my wife and me dining at a local pub or restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day. After all, we met in a bar and we were in our 20s then, so we felt right at home. Whether it is natural progression, or just the desire to fill our home with the savory aroma of a corned beef simmering on the stove, we made the leap from going out to staying in.
Our first attempts were simple. There wasn’t much to it, really. Snip the package open using care not to spill the rhubarb-colored brine all over, and gently slip the brisket into a large pot of water. I always liked the Cracker Jack part of it, you know, the little prize package of spices. Another snip and in they go. Bring the vessel to a boil, reduce the flame and let her simmer an Irish melody. In time, some potatoes and wedges of fresh cabbage would join the pool party. In keeping with the simple theme, we’d complete the meal with store-bought soda bread and a dessert. Perhaps there may have been a couple pints of stout too.
As the years drove on, so did culinary exploration. I became curious and slightly fixated on that petite, rounded loaf of soda bread we used to buy. I say “used to” because the purchase has been abandoned for a good eight or nine years. It took about three or four recipes as well as a hybrid or two to dial in on a recipe that would make me exclaim as Goldilocks did, “Just right!” Can you tell I have storybook-aged children in the house?
This year is no exception. We’ll plate up a traditional Irish boiled dinner with all the trimmings. I was set to retrieve my “go to” soda bread recipe when I came upon one from the Los Angeles Times food section. While perusing the recipe, I was immediately able to recognize the differences from my tried-and-true favorite, and though the variances were few, the flavor profiles imparted by the LAT version were intriguing.
My thoughts began to race. I was surprised there was a measurement of cinnamon and a combination of brown and white sugars. I saw tablespoons of butter cut into the dough, something I hadn’t done before or come across in a recipe. Did I not explore enough recipes, or the right ones? Without thinking I pointed and clicked. The whirl of the printer took its cue revving up its mechanisms like the engine of a jet plane on the tarmac. Pfffft. Pffft. Two sheets of paper emerged in the catch tray. Before the paper had time to cool from passing through the printer, the oven’s thermostat was set to 375…
On St. Patrick’s Day, our table will be graced with our new favorite Irish soda bread. I exercised a couple of the options afforded by the LAT recipe and produced loaves of soda bread like the ones you’d probably see on a farmer’s table in the Irish countryside. The molasses aspect of the brown sugar lends a depth of flavor and yields a gorgeous brown crust laced with nooks and crannies. The scent emanating from its pores beckons you to dip hunks of the bread straight from an open jar of orange marmalade. And the cinnamon that puzzled me is a backbone of sorts, playing a supporting role much like what coffee does for chocolate. But the true benchmark of first-rate bread is its crumb—not only is the texture moist and tender, but the crumb can hold up to the swipe of a butter knife!
Watch the video demonstration!
Need a sensational finish to your St. Patrick’s Day dinner? Check out this recipe.
For a lovely egg-free version of this recipe, please see Lata Tokhi’s soda bread.
Adapted recipe from the Los Angeles Times