Active Work Time: 40 minutes
Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Most authentic Irish soda breads are whole wheat, but combinations of half white and half whole wheat or white whole wheat still make for a good loaf. As with anything else, a larger proportion of white flour will give an airier and higher loaf. All whole wheat will give you a more rustic, nutty loaf. Both eggs and caraway seeds are optional here (for real traditionalists). I alternate including the caraway seeds but often omit the eggs. You will use more of the buttermilk if you omit the eggs. I like this with a wedge of sharp Cheddar or imported Cheshire or Lancastershire cheese and a couple of pickled onions for a makeshift plowman's platter.
3 cups unbleached flour, plus more for kneading
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional
6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten, optional
1 1/4 to 2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins or mixed raisins and currants, plumped in hot water 5 minutes
* Combine unbleached flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon and caraway seeds. Cut butter into dry ingredients by hand or using paddle or hook attachment on mixer at slow speed.
* Add eggs and buttermilk to form a soft dough. Stir in raisins. Turn out onto floured work surface and gently knead 8 times or so to firm up dough. Let rest 10 minutes.
* Shape into an 8- or 9-inch round. Score top with a knife to make cross. Dust with white flour or sprinkle with bran or oatmeal. Place in 9-inch cast-iron pan and bake at 375 degrees until top is brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and cool in pan on rack.
10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings: 267 calories; 491 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 48 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.47 gram fiber.
Use unbleached all-purpose flour for the white flour and, if you can find it, white whole-wheat flour. Hodgson Mills and King Arthur offer white whole-wheat, a nutty, sweet, nutritious whole-wheat flour with none of the drying qualities or slightly bitter aftertaste of regular whole wheat. It can be ordered on their Web sites (http://www.hodgsonmill.com and http://www.kingarthurflour.com, respectively). King Arthur Flour also sells a specialty flour for making soda bread.
These are ideal for soda breads as they conduct heat well and ensure lovely crisp, brown crusts. The handles on the skillets make them easy to maneuver. Unless you have an heirloom pan, yard sales and flea markets are your best shopping bets, or check out the Lodge and Wagnerware, the last two cast-iron cookware foundries left. Serve your soda breads in the cast-iron pan, but use a table trivet to protect your table. (And don't forget oven mitts.)