Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Irish Soda Bread: Four ingredients--lots of variety

True Irish soda bread is made from just four ingredients--flour, baking soda, sour milk, and salt--and yet, endless variation is possible, as evidenced by the singular popularity of Irish Soda Bread competitions across the country. And one local museum, gave rise to that culinary creativity.

"Our competition was first, but we now they've sprung up all over the place," says Ryan Mahoney, Executive Director for the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany. Mahoney says the Museum started the Maureen Farrell McCarthy Irish Soda Bread Competition in 2012, and that every year, it continues to get larger. The competition will be held on Saturday, March 5, this year, and will help kick off St. Patrick's Day festivities in the Capital Region. The competition welcomes professionals and amateurs alike to submit their best loaves for judging, with prizes awarded in three separate categories: traditional white flour soda bread, wheaten soda bread, and family not strictly traditional (or FNST, as its known to die-hard soda bread enthusiasts). Soda bread with raisins or currants would fall into this last category, Mahoney says. "Grapes didn't grow in Ireland," he explains.

To enter the competition, you must register. Registration packets can be found online here. Loaves will be judged based on shape, freshness, bread chew, crumb, soda taste, even browning, and proper cross cuts--and lest you think you can sneak a raisin or pat of butter in, adherence to mandated recipes.

The first known and written recipe for Irish soda bread was published in the November 1836 issue of the Farmer’s Magazine (London), page 328, referenced in the Irish newspaper from County Down. This recipe of white flour, salt, bread soda (baking soda) and an acid such as sour milk or buttermilk established the traditional Irish soda bread. If your recipe contains anything more than the original four ingredients cited in the County Down recipe, such as additional ingredients like raisins, eggs, currants, butter, caraway seeds, sugar and other ingredients, you are making what is called “spotted dog” or “railway cake,” which has become, over the past one hundred and seventy plus years, non-traditional soda breads.

The Irish Soda Bread Competition takes place on Saturday, March 5. Loaves must be dropped off between 10am and 5pm on March 4. Three Irish American Chefs will be judging the soda breads beginning at 5PM, and the winners will be announced at 3:00 pm on Saturday. Prizes include a pair of tickets to the O'Malley's Irish Pub Dinner Theatre, presented by Mazzone Hospitality and Enchante Cabaret at the Hilton Garden Inn in Clifton Park, on March 12. Sign up for the Irish Soda Bread Competition, and learn more about Irish cooking at http://irish-us.org/. For more information, contact the Irish American Heritage Museum at (518) 427-1916.


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