Monday, March 15, 2010

irish soda bread scones

soda bread minis

Let’s just get this out of the way from the get-go — don’t let the title fool you. This here is American soda bread. It has raisins. It has caraway seeds. It has butter, eggs and even some sugar. It stales quickly, but not nearly as quickly as the authentic stuff (almost entirely comprised of flour, baking soda and buttermilk) would. Oh, and I made the “bread” into “tiny breads” and I liken them to scones. Look, when I blasphemize a recipe, I like to go all the way, okay?

mixing it up with a fork
gathering to knead the dough

So now that we got what they are not out of the way, let’s talk about what they are: a triumph! Okay, perhaps something less dramatic, but briefly in my kitchen on Sunday morning (before heading out to an afternoon in the apparent floodlands of Central Jersey), it sure felt like it. A month or so ago, I had spied a Irish soda bread scone at Whole Foods that was fairly run of the mill for a scone — dry and uninteresting; “soda bread” really in name only. And I got to remembering how much I like the crackly coarse crust and plush interior of a good Irish soda bread, not to mention that curiously addictive raisin-caraway combo and knew there had to be a way to make these the way I believed they ought to have been at home.

wee soda breads, scones

Of course, the way things are sputtering along my kitchen these days, it should have been no surprise that I didn’t nail it on round one (an accidental extra egg in a halved recipe yielded muffins, spongy ones) or round two (convinced my standby would make excellent scones, well, I was wrong). It was round three or bust for me on Sunday morning; I was running low on the comically large raisins I’d picked up, patience and inclination, as there were more entertaining things in my line of view, and so I went for the kind of recipe that keeps its promises, the kind you often find in Cook’s Illustrated. Sure enough, these breads were velvety within and craggy without; they had crust, they had crumb and they had me, armed with a pat of butter, to face down and I’m sorry, but they lost.

butter-brushed soda bread scones
soda bread scone

One year ago: Layer Cake Tips + The Biggest Birthday Cake, Yet
Two years ago: White Bean Stew
Three years ago: Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

Irish American Soda Bread Scones
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

I adapted the original recipes into mini-breads (that I like to call scones) but this recipe will also work as a whole loaf, with a 40 to 45 minute cooking time. However you do or do not divide them, like all soda breads, you should plan to consume these on day one. On day one, they’ve got a craggy crust and a warm, plush interior; they love butter and you love them. On day two, they have a density, especially when your big toe breaks their fall, that could threaten your efforts to rein in your foul language now that tiny, impressionable ears linger about.

Yields 8 mini-bread “scones” which are fairly hefty, and can be split between two people

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
1 cup cake flour (or, make your own)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon table salt (this is 2/3 the original amount, which I found too salty)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 tablespoons softened, 1 tablespoon melted)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or, make your own)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup currants or raisins
1 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the upper-middle position. Whisk dry ingredients (flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt) in a large bowl. Work the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork, pastry blender or your fingertips until the flour mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add the wet ingredients (buttermilk and egg), currants or raisins and caraway seeds, if you’re using them, and stir with a fork until the dough just begins to come together. Turn out onto a work surface (CI says you need a floured one but I didn’t agree) and knead until the dough just becomes cohesive and bumpy. You’re not going for a smooth dough — CI warns that this will make it tough.

Pat dough into a round and use a knife or dough divider to cut it into 8 wedges. Form each wedge into a round and place on a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet. Cut a cross shape into the top of each. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees (this is especially helpful in this recipe, where doneness is hard to judge from the outside). Scones should be golden brown a skewer should come out clean. Remove from the oven and brush with butter before cooling to room temperature. Eat on day one.


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