When I was in third grade, our teacher, Mrs. Cormany, assigned the class a “country of origin” project. As an 8-year-old, I had the basic understanding that my grandparents were my parents’ parents, but the idea of ancestors and descendants was new and somewhat intriguing. I went home and began asking questions about my forebears. My mom replied that our family was, as far as she knew, English with maybe a little Scottish in the mix. My dad said the same, adding that there was some French “way back.”
To my 8-year-old ears, it was as if they said, “boringboringblahblahblah.” So I decided to make up some ancestors. (This was back in the day when kids did their own homework.) And because the most glamorous girl in my class was Lydia with flowing auburn hair and sparkling green eyes, I decided that my ancestors would be, like hers, from Ireland, the land of rainbows and leprechauns, a place I believed to be truly magical.
The good news is that on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. And so, to add a little magic to this not-quite-spring time of year, I’ve planned an Irish dinner.
Despite my once yearning to be Irish, it turns out I don’t have a lot of green in the tableware department. I made do with plates shaped like cabbage leaves, green bottle tumblers, and my favorite Belgian linen napkins with a faded green, blue, and red plaid. For a weeknight centerpiece, I added a few preserved boxwood topiaries. The menu is simple: shepherd’s pie, soda bread with Irish butter, and mint brownies.
Easy peasy, except that I am not a bread baker. Most of my efforts, except for biscuits and rolls, have not ended well. On more than one occasion I have had to throw out the bread — and the pan it was baked in. I wish I were kidding.
Still, I kept returning to a recipe called “Mrs. Callahan’s Irish Soda Bread.” It didn’t require yeast to rise, so I figured I might have a shot.
It turned out great! It’s a tasty, peasant bread — the texture was even, and the bread is slightly sweet, perfect for next morning’s toast. Best of all, it makes two rounds, so you can share the Irish goodness with a neighbor.
Mrs. Callahan’s Irish Soda Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick cold butter (1/4 cup), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the dry ingredients on the lowest speed of your mixer. Add the cubes of butter and continue mixing at a low speed.
Pour the buttermilk in a very slow, thin, steady stream. When the milk is added, turn off the mixer. The dough will be shaggy.
Remove half the dough from the mixing bowl and turn out onto a floured surface. (I used the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.) Gently knead the dough about four or five turns and shape the dough into a round.
Do the same with the second half of the dough. Cut a deep X or cross into the top of the rounds. This is known as “blessing the bread.” Bake for 40 minutes or until the round sounds hollow when tapped. Cut into wedges and serve warm with butter.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
By day, Paula Angermeier is the head of communications for the Greenville County Museum of Art. By night, she writes about the art of living at TownandCountryHouse.com.