Growing up in an Italian- and Irish-American household, this time of year was always a pretty big deal, what with not one but two major feasts only two days apart -- St. Patrick's Day, of course, and St. Joseph's Day. And in my native New York these special days really do rise to the level of true feasts, in every sense of the word.
Starting with my mother's Irish soda bread straight from the oven early on the morning of March 17, St. Patrick's Day was a time to celebrate our heritage with music, stories, and, of course, corned beef and cabbage. (Yes, I know that's American-Irish, not Irish-Irish.) And then on March 19 came the St. Joseph's pastry, available only one day a year. Lenten fasts can be a special challenge for us Irish-Italians during this particular week.
If you're looking to make some soda bread tomorrow -- my husband always asks why I only make this on March 17 -- here's my mother's recipe. I wish I could give you a recipe for St. Joseph's pastry, but, alas, I don't have one, and I have yet to get my hands on said pastry since I moved to upstate New York eleven years ago. I know they're out there and I try to track them down every March 19, but, so far, no luck. Maybe this year.
On with the soda bread recipe...Keep in mind that this bread must be slathered in butter. Not butter substitute, but real, artery-clogging butter. Enjoy!
Irene's Irish Soda Bread
4 cups flourNow, for the purists out there, the inclusion of shortening, raisins and caraway seeds is tantamount to treason to some. Go visit this website if you want to find out what the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread has to say. Yes, there really is such a society. Check it out.
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup seedless raisins
1 Tbs. caraway seeds (optional)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk (more if it feels too dry)
1/4 cup Crisco (I've experimented with other shortening but came back to this)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda into bowl.
Stir in raisins and caraway seeds, if using.
Add buttermilk and Crisco. Mix. Knead just enough to moisten dry ingredients. If you need it too much it will get tough.
Shape into two mounds and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cut an X into the top of each loaf. Makes two loaves.
Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.