I hosted my book club this week. In the end, there were nine of us for dinner. Not a crowd, but enough to warrant adding a leaf or two to the dining room table.
Book club dinners are typically on the light side, but in the last few months, one hostess served meatloaf and another went with lasagna, neither of which qualify as “light.” No one complained. In fact, they went back for seconds.
Attendance at book club varies, especially as the weather gets warmer, and the exodus to more comfortable climates changes direction. So the number of guests for dinner could easily have been twelve or fifteen, instead of nine. But with a menu focused on a build-it-yourself entrée salad, having less, as opposed to more, wasn’t a problem. In fact, I wound up using the leftovers for dinner the next night, so it was a plus.
In the end, the buffet was truly “pantry- to- plate.” Chicken, turkey, three kinds of cheese, chopped egg, tomatoes, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, dried cranberries, artichokes, three kinds of lettuce, focaccia, Coca-Cola cake and banana bread- Lots of variety, lots of choices, but it was the Irish soda bread that stole the show.
When asked, I said the recipe was simple, and it is. I promised to post it on the blog, and I am. Baked goods generally offer less wiggle room than something like a braise or a stew or a stir-fry. Even so, this particular recipe allows for some flexibility.
You can use jumbo raisins in lieu of the smaller ones, and dried cranberries will also work well, as will dried apricots if they’re diced. I sometimes use Splenda instead of sugar, and powdered buttermilk works as well as fresh. Just follow the directions on the box, and store the powdered buttermilk in the refrigerator once it’s opened. To maximize the soda bread’s flavor, serve it warm.
Butter is usually the spread of choice for soda bread, but I think jelly is, in general, a tastier accompaniment. And for me, the jelly that works best is the tart, boiled cider jelly from Wood’s Cider Mill.
There are endless recipes for Irish soda bread. This one is from “Prairie Home Breads,” which was published in 2001. Author Judith Fertig cautions that the bread is “…best eaten the day it’s made.” She’s right. What she doesn’t mention is that it freezes well, and, of course, once it’s served, it disappears quickly.
Irish Buttermilk Soda Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teapoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups golden raisins, plumped in warm water and drained
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a *10-inch cast-iron skillet and set aside. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl, and stir in the raisins.
- In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, buttermilk and butter together with a wooden spoon, then stir into the dry ingredients.
- Soon the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until puffed and browned. Carefully transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool.
Note: The recipe is adapted from a recipe in Judith M. Fertig’s “Prairie Home Breads” (The Harvard Common Press, $18.95).
*I use a ceramic baking dish that’s round, 10-inches wide, and slightly more than 1 ½-inches high. Mine is made by Corning Ware.