My parents were already adults when they emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, so their culinary preferences pretty much always reflected “the old country.” We’ve all heard the jokes about bland Irish cooking, with its overcooked meats and vegetables. When I was growing up, unfortunately most of those tales were true.
Let’s just say meals at our house weren’t terribly innovative. But my mother managed to feed 3 squares a day to a family of 8—which is certainly an accomplishment none of her children can match.
Her real claim to fame, however, was her Irish soda bread. This “scon,” as she called it, was something she learned to make as a girl in Donegal. In her own American kitchen, she tweaked and fussed with her mother’s recipe—adding a bit more sugar in deference to my father’s sweet tooth, and an egg to lighten the texture. You know how cooks are.
As a testament to this, several of my relatives have slightly different versions of essentially the same recipe—each written in my mother’s distinctive hand. But fine-tuning aside, scon was always the best part of our breakfast table, served with steaming cups of hot tea made kid-friendly with milk and sugar.
This soda bread bears no resemblance to those dry and crumbly loaves being sold at supermarkets this week. And I see no point in debating the pros and cons of using currants over raisins; or the merits of adding caraway seeds. This is what I grew up with, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Even now, 83 years after she first landed at Ellis Island, my mother’s scon remains part of every Doherty family gathering. And we’ve picked up plenty of converts along the way.
So when the folks at Lodge asked if I had a favorite recipe to contribute to their new cast iron cookbook, my mother’s soda bread immediately came to mind. You see, for as long as I can remember she baked it in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I never asked why—it’s possible she simply didn’t own a 9-inch cake pan back in those early years. Many of us have since tried baking it every possible way, but nothing compares to the crisp crust and happy memories associated with soda bread baked in a cast iron skillet.
Maggie Doherty's Irish Soda Bread
Recipe from The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook by The Lodge Company (Oxmoor House, 2012)
Maggie Doherty was cookbook author Peggy Fallon's mother, who swore by cast iron when it came to her soda bread.
Makes one (9-inch) round loaf
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups raisins (preferably 1 cup
- each golden and dark raisins)
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Generously grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with vegetable shortening.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; whisk gently to blend. Stir in the raisins to coat with the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk and egg; stir until a stiff dough forms. (Use a wooden spoon if you must, but the most efficient way to mix this soft, sticky dough is with floured hands. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed in a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.)
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and mound it into the prepared skillet, roughly forming a round loaf. (Don't be concerned that it won't hold its shape; it will be corrected during baking.) Lightly moisten your hands with water to smooth the top. Using a serrated knife dipped in flour, score the top with a large X, about 1/2-inch deep. (This will ensure even baking, and it will also scare away the devil, according to Peggy's mother.) Bake until the loaf is golden brown with a firm crust and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife, about 1 hour.
4. Remove the bread from the skillet and let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted, with or without butter.
Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.