Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I decided to make Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. I did not attempt anything else, like corned beef, to go with it. We were going to have a simple beef stew, but ended up having a fish curry instead. We had bread for an appetizer. Sam loved it! I thought the caraway seed would be a turn off, but nope. That kid loves his carbs.

The dough was sticky and shaggy, as you can see, so I wasn't sure it would come out good. You don't have to knead until smooth because you aren't activating any yeast.

This recipe is supposedly authentic. I got it from Epicurious, which gave several variations and stated that this one was The One. I've been thinking about authenticity recently. I'm wondering if it's an American preoccupation. You see it all the time in write-ups of ethnic cuisine: the most authentic Thai; the best and most authentic dim sum, etc. I thought perhaps it's like being White, which is also in the forefront of my mind right now because I just completed our census documents. White, as an ethnic identity, doesn't exist outside of the US, really. It's unique to this place because we are an immigrant and plural society. So, authentic is kind of like that, isn't it? If we're not in the old country, the recipe isn't really Real ... but it can be Authentic. Or would it be the other way around?

Authentic means: having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence. Culinarily this speaks to method and ingredients, which can be replicated in many cases. Not all, surely. But we know those people, don't we? On the quest for the Authentic this and the Real that, decrying the pretenders. And then. There's that thing that I have heard said by gourmands, foreign gourmands, perhaps Jacques Pepin even said it; I'm pretty sure I heard Eric Ripert say it too. (If they ever read this blog I will beg their forgiveness if I attributed this to them erroneously... after I die of shock and joy.) That is, that Americans are so open to New and so unbound by dogma and tradition, that the utmost food experience is found simply in the flavor. Is this the way it's supposed to be done? Is it authentic? Who cares? is what Americans say. Is it good? Is it the best you have ever tasted? THAT alone is what matters here. Where does authentic fit into that?

I recall in Julia Child's biography she spoke of one of her partners in the creation of the tome that was her first cookbook. This partner would always complain of Juila's recipes as inauthentic - But that's not French! That's not how we do it! She was adamant and Julia was adamant that in her testing this and that way would work for and was accessible to American cooks, and that's what it was about, wasn't it? Realistic and available methodology and ingredients. Does that negate authenticity?

So, this bread recipe is good. Simple and good.

Recipe: 3.5 cups AP flour (you can use wheat, white, or a combination), 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 T caraway seeds (optional), 1 tsp. baking soda, 1.5 cups buttermilk. Mix all dry ingredients. Pour in just enough buttermilk for the dough to stir together into a shaggy, lumpy mass - this was just shy of the 1.5 cup mark for me. Turn it onto a floured surface and knead it until it comes together, 1-2 minutes. Shape it into a 6x2in. round and place on a floured baking sheet. Cut a 1-in. deep X in the top and bake at 425 for 30-35 minutes, until golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

Caraway was not easy to find. I had to go to the dreaded Whole Foods. God, I detest them. What is up with the attitude? I will except the butchers and the cheesemongers from my blanket statement that everyone who works at WF is a supercilious ass. I expect some friendly service with those astronomical prices, thanks.
This is not the Irish soda bread, obviously. I thought I would include a photo of the spiced banana loaf that I made with my black bananas. Sam likes it very much. Again, I thought the spice combo of allspice, nutmeg, and cloves would throw him off. Nope. He had an enormous slice and wanted more.
So delicious with afternoon tea.

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