Caraway Irish Soda Bread Muffins

Growing up in a town that was about 50% Irish, soda bread from the local bakery was always one of my favorite treats. The dense, slightly sweet loaf was usually sold with icing on top and studded through with currants. My dad would buy it and serve toasted slices of it loaded up with good butter.

Soda bread in its original form was a far cry from the sweet, scone-like delicacies we eat in the United States today. Real soda bread was a peasant dish made from simple ingredients--flour, buttermilk leftover from the butter churn, and bread soda. It was a plain bread meant to be served with stew or salted butter. It was only on special occasions that women would add extras like raisins, an egg if they had one on hand, or a bit of sugar.

This recipe is for a very basic Irish American-style soda bread, flavored with caraway seeds, lemon zest, and a bit of sugar. I make this one in a muffin tin, and the result is individual little scone-like muffins that are perfect for serving with warm Irish butter or sharp cheddar cheese. I served this at my St. Patrick's Day brunch along with Kerrygold butter and cheddar, and it was a hit with all of my guests.

Note that this produces a very sticky dough. When you're making muffins, it's easiest and quickest if you use an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the dough into the tins.

Note: The bread can also be made as one very large loaf; simply increase the cooking time to 45 minutes and slash a cross in the center to help it cook through properly.

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Caraway Irish Soda Bread Muffins
Makes about 18 soda bread muffins. Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten.

Ingredients
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
zest of 1 lemon
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons caraway seeds

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 2 muffin tins.

In the base of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt and mix until combined. Mix in the bugger and lemon zest.

In a separate container, whisk together the buttermilk eggs and caraway seeds. While the mixer is on slow, pour in the buttermilk mixture and let mix on the lowest setting until completely combined and the dough starts to pull away from the sides. (The dough will be very sticky.)

Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to divide the mixture into the muffin tins until it reaches the top of each opening. This makes about 18 muffins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack.
Note: The bread can also be made as one very large loaf; simply increase the cooking time to 45 minutes and slash a cross in the center to help it cook through properly.

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