Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thinking About Soda Bread

When I lived in Limerick, Ireland way back when (it really just can't be possible that was 18 years ago), I regularly ate the most delicious scones. I would treat myself to a bakery trip once a week on my very long walk from Mary Immaculate College to the bus stop near Henry and Roches Sts. That whole 4-month stay seems a bit cloudy as I'm shocked to see the length of that walk on the Google maps I had no access to in 1992!

I cannot recall what my single scone cost but know it was a significant dip into my shrinking savings for this study abroad trip, as well as a block or two off that daily route. To step in that warm bakery smelling of cream pastries in my rain-soaked jeans... It was one day of heaven in a wet and lonely week!

One of my housemates in my dorm at University of Limerick had a knack for cooking. She could imagine what she wanted to eat and just make it happen. I can do that now, after years of practice, but it is a testament to the differences in our upbringings that she was able to do so at the tender age of 18. I asked her to teach me to make Irish scones, noting that they were so different from what I knew in America. What did she want to learn from me? Chocolate chip cookies and macaroni and cheese. A true cultural exchange.

Our kitchen table was always filled with the dairy products delivered by the milkman every few days: butter, milk - always whole, maybe a block of cheese but rarely. Dairy stored on a table. That took some adjusting on my part. (What about salmonella?! We had a refrigerator that stored, almost exclusively, beer and soda. One of those NYC-apartment-sized refrigerators.) Only a handful of ingredients needed to come from the cupboard, like a pinch of sugar and some flour. I took copious notes - which I would love to dig out of my garage someday - the kind that read something like "add three handfuls of flour," "pinch in a palm-sized piece of butter," and so on. I recall being amazed not just by the lack of a recipe but the limited number of utensils involved, essentially a bowl and her hands. And it was over in a whirl, about ten minutes from mixing, shaping and dropping onto a sheet to bake. So delicious.

I was inspired to try Smitten Kitchen's Soda Bread Scones, in honor of this very Irish-American holiday. I love these types of recipes with a "twist" and here Deb combines two lovely Irish ideas: scones and soda bread. In my limited scone and soda bread exposure in Ireland, I never saw either caraway seeds or raisins used, but I love the way the sweet and savory play off each other. Had I spent more time shaping them, the pictures sure would have been prettier, however, I know the poor texture that comes with overworking this type of dough - pretty food vs. yummy food is always a no-brainer for me. You'll notice I didn't slice a cross in the tops; that felt a bit too much like a hot-cross bun which I associate with Protestant early America rather than the superstitions and traditions of Celtic Catholicism. (I know, what does that have to do with food? But it seemed to matter.) Instead, I sprinkled the tops with a dash of granulated sugar after brushing them with butter at the end of the cook time. I popped them back in the oven for a minute or two to bake in that lusciousness. And, finally, even though Deb wisely mentions that these make large scones that could serve two, I really had no trouble polishing off one myself...

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