Sunday, March 18, 2007
So, the more I read about Irish soda bread, I come to the conclusion that, for one, it's not that Irish, and for another, it's not that good. Evidently, the raisin and caraway seed combo that seems to be ubiquitous in these parts is not at all traditional. Irish soda bread is basically a simple quickbread, getting its leavening from baking soda (hence the name) and buttermilk or yogurt.
The problem is that, traditionally, Irish food is about humility, simplicity, homeyness. But, here in the states, St. Patrick's Day has transmogrified into something very far from that tradition -- festive, energetic, well-sauced. Even caraway and raisins are not that exciting to me. So I figured, if I'm going to be breaking from tradition anyway, might as well make it a little more exciting. I went with fennel seeds and dried cranberries, because I love both. And I added orange zest, because it's festive and smells amazing.
The bread was a great success, and the night turned into a dance party, but the highlight occurred on the way home. Driving up Fairfax, still in a great mood (miraculously the street was clear), I noticed that the driver and passenger in front of me were having a little dance party of their own. Inspired by them, I started rocking out in my own right (it didn't hurt that at that same moment, the radio started playing the B-52's "Strobe Light" -- after all, how can you not go into raptures when that goofy voice we all know and love for having a Chrysler that seats about twenty is calling out to you that he wants to touch your pineapples?). Then, the car next to me saw me flailing about, nodded his head in affirmation, and started bopping to his own beat. See that, people? Paying it forward.
Cranberry Fennel Soda Bread
adapted from Sheila Lukins' All Around the World Cookbook
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
zest of one orange, finely minced
1 1/4 cups nonfat plain yogurt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Smash fennel seeds a bit in a mortar and pestle (no need to break them up finely, just enough to bring out the fragrance). Mix flour, sugars, baking soda, salt, cranberries, and orange zest in a large bowl with your hands. While mixing take care to lift and drop mixture to incorporate air (lazy man's sifting), break up any lumps of brown sugar, and separate any cranberries that are stuck together.
In a separate bowl, mix yogurt, egg, and butter together. Add yogurt mixture to the dry ingredients, and combine using a wooden spoon.
In a floured, ungreased baking sheet or other oven-proof pan (I used a cast-iron pan -- looked rustic and pretty), form the dough into a disk about 6 inches in diameter, dusting the dough with flour if it's too sticky. Cut a cross or other design across the top with a sharp nice. Bake bread until golden brown, about fify minutes.
Makes 1 loaf.