Before this week, I didn't realize that Sister Mary’s Irish Soda Bread is not Irish, it's Irish-American. I adore the rich and raisin-filled bread, and I've usually made it (or a close approximation) each year as St. Patrick's Day rolls around.
I do fondly remember eating earthy, unsweetened brown bread when my family traveled to Ireland about 15 years ago. We called it "brown bread" and let it go at that. I had no idea that the thick hand-cut slices I devoured in every pub, restaurant, and B&B we visited is, in fact, traditional, 4-ingredient Irish soda bread.
My newfound understanding is courtesy of Steve Webb and his delightful American Food Roots essay on making traditional soda bread. Since reading his essay a few days ago, I've found lots of recipes and references for the traditional type, and from now on, I won't mistake the Irish-American version for traditional soda bread.
While they are wholly different in texture and taste, both types are easy to make and quick to bake, with no yeast, rising, or prolonged kneading required in either case. When I raise a glass of Guinness Stout or Harp Lager this weekend on St. Patty's Day, I'll toast them both - Viva La Difference!
I've already given you my husband's family recipe for Irish-American soda bread. Here is my take on the traditional Irish version.
Because it has only 4 ingredients (whole wheat or white flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk), there are limited variations on the traditional Irish soda bread. I used King Arthur “white whole wheat” as a compromise between whole wheat, which I find too heavy, and white flour, which seemed like a cop-out to me. The result was quite pleasant, wheaty but not overwhelmingly so.