According to the site sodabread.us (I guess sodabread.com, sodabread.info, and sodabread.net were already taken??), my recipe is not really soda bread if it contains baking powder, sugar, and/or embellishments such as dried fruit or chocolate chips. Technically, it should be referred to as either "spotted dog" or "railway cake." Mmmmm.......railway cake, now that sounds yummy! It's a wonder that name never caught on in the states.
The traditional Irish soda bread recipe consists of flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk--that's it. For this reason, I will likely never prepare, serve, or eat traditional soda bread. I mean, is it so bad to enjoy a hint of sweetness, a caraway seed, or a plump raisin here and there? I didn't think so.
Soda bread dates back to 1840, when sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a. baking soda, was first introduced in Ireland. Because the Irish wheat was not hard enough to be compatible with yeast, baking soda was used as an alternative leavening agent. You'll often see a loaf of soda bread bearing a cross shape in the center. Some stories say that the cross was implemented to ward off evil, but bread bakers will probably argue that its purpose was to aid in both the baking and slicing processes. I just think that it looks nice.
Soda bread has become a staple to the Irish diet, and it is commonly used as an accompaniment to stews and soups. The bread tends to dry out quickly, so it is best to serve it within a day of baking, and I strongly recommend reheating prior to serving. Because Eric is of Irish heritage, I try to whip up an Irish-themed dinner one night around St. Patty's Day. Soda bread (or railway cake) is always on the menu in some shape or form. This year, instead of making one large loaf, I am going to go with over-sized soda bread muffins, reason being that we barely make a dent into the loaf, leaving the rest to dry out quickly. At least with the muffins, we can eat one at a time and leave the rest wrapped up. I also wanted to try a sweeter version. Yes! I had the nerve to use sugar and chocolate and dried fruit and still refer to it as soda bread (gasp). I love the combination of chocolate and cherry......and cherry and orange.....and orange and chocolate, so I put all three together in one recipe. These additions helped to keep this typically dry bread moist while adding lots of flavor. Here are my extra tips for these magnificent monster muffins:
- If you do not want to make the dough into muffins, you can make it into one large loaf instead. Gather the dough together and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form the dough into a circle. Bake the loaf for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- You can use all regular flour instead of using both regular and whole wheat flour. I like the heartier flavor and texture that the whole wheat flour lends to the recipe.
- Feel free to experiment with this recipe. Keep the basic dough, but substitute dried cranberries or apricots for the cherries. Use different types of chocolate or a variety of chocolates. Add lightly toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans.
- If the tops of the muffins start to become too brown during the baking process, then lightly tent them with foil until they are done.
Oversized Cherry-Chocolate Soda Bread Muffins
Makes about 8 large or 16 regular muffins
2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
Zest of one orange
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
1 cup coarsely chopped dried sour cherries
1 ⅓ cups buttermilk
1 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 8 large muffin cups or spray them with non-stick baking spray (alternatively use regular-sized muffin tins.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and orange zest. Add the cubed butter to the bowl and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the chopped chocolate and dried cherries.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and the egg. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until incorporated. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center emerges clean, 40-45 minutes for the large muffins (20-25 for regular muffins).
Cool the muffins in their tins for 5 minutes and then transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool some more. Serve warm or at room temperature.