Back-story to this recipe: In a few weeks I’ll be hosting my annual St. Patrick’s Day party. It started several years ago, when my boyfriend-at-the-time-now-best-friend moved in with me in Queens. He’s from an Irish family (Ruark Michael Downey – you don’t get more Irish than that!) and I’d been to Ireland several times at that point. What naturally followed was a succession of parties where we’d bring in a keg of Guinness, bottles of whiskey and Irish cream, and I’d make a full boiled dinner. The second year I made lamb stew and corned beef and cabbage. Subsequent years brought us to the point where we were making 9 corned beefs and I was whipping up car-bomb cupcakes by the several dozen. We needed nothing more than good food, good booze and the company of our lovely friends.
This year I’m doing a bit of experimenting with gluten-and-dairy-free recipes to include with the traditional ones I’ll be presenting. For this I found the most traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe I could find, having discarded anything fancy and landing on one with thorough directions and a bit of history.
So, the Irish are famous for soda bread for two reasons: the abundance of soft wheat with a lower gluten content and the availability of fuel for home fires and therefore the ability to bake bread at whim. Simple ingredients (flour, milk, salt and baking soda) create a quick bread that’s delicious with a bowl of thick stew or layered around cold meat. Since you don’t want the gluten to develop (as you would with a harder wheat and yeast combo), this makes this bread perfect for a gluten-free version. I tried to approximate the taste of flour I remember from my glutenous soda-bread days, so threw in some oat and quinoa flour with the bulky rice flour and starches. And I soured unsweetened almond milk, hoping that the vinegar would produce the proper chemical reaction with the baking soda.
The result? This bread is delicious! Deceptively sweet, especially as it contains NO SUGAR. And popping warm, it’s perfect with a touch of Irish butter. I gave some to my friend Lynn and her boyfriend Griff, who’s from Ireland. His response: “this is a very close approximation of the bread of my people”. They gobbled them up.
For this go around I made 8 mini loafs from the recipe to cut down the baking time dramatically. For St. Pat’s I’ll be making two full loaves along with a wheat-flour version. I have a feeling the recipe is equally successful either way.
- 1 cup gluten-free whole-grain oat flour
- 1 cup white rice flour
- 1/2 cup quinoa flour
- 1/2 cup tapioca flour / starch
- 1/2 cup arrowroot starch
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar (optional – I did not use)
- 8-10 oz buttermilk or soured milk of choice at room temperature (directions below)
- 1/2 cup dried currants (optional)
- Preheat oven to 45o degrees. It should be fully preheated and nice and hot before you put the bread in.
- Lightly flour a heavy baking sheet with gluten-free flour.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt, sugar and baking soda. Gather and sift again, so that the baking soda is fully dispersed. Make a well in the center.
- If using regular milk or milk alternative: measure one Tbsp white or red wine vinegar in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 10 oz. Use a fork to mix thoroughly.
- Slowly pour about 8 oz of the milk into the well of flour, and quickly start blending with fork until it starts to pull together. The mixture should be rather lumpy and on the drier side, but pulled together. Add currants and fold in gently. If too dry, add remaining milk until mixture pulls together.
- Turn onto a slightly floured board and knead just until the dough is one, about 15 seconds / 6 kneads. Don’t over knead.
- Break dough into 8 balls, and press into slightly flat disks. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross in each loaf about 1/3 into the dough.
- Place in hot oven and bake 13 minutes, or until the tops are slightly brown. If you tap on the bottom of a loaf, it should sound hollow. The dough in the center should be slightly soft though.
- Cool before eating or enjoy warm with melted butter.
One-loaf Option: Shape into one loaf, slice the cross in, and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then decrease heat to 400 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer or until crisp on top and sounding hollow with a tap on the bottom.
Note: This recipe is dedicated to my lovely roommate, Erika. She’s been working so much lately that she hasn’t been able to (in her opinion) contribute to the upkeep of our generally clean apartment. So she paid someone to come in and wash and scrub everything, and we lounged in our immaculate living room, catching up. And less than an hour later, I was in the kitchen… and it got a bit dusty.