Sunday, March 20, 2011

Double Take: St. Patrick's Day, Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread

A Tale of Two Breads

Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread
(My favorite so far!)

It was the best of breads, it was the worst of breads, it was a bread of genius, and it was a bread of insanity.

Apparently no two Irish soda breads are created equal. I looked at a lot of recipes in which comments ranged from awesome to disappointing and "this is just like my Irish gram's" to "this is nothing like what I grew up with"...all for the same recipe. I'm starting to think there might be more ways to make Irish soda bread than there are to make vegetable soup. I tried two different recipes. To call them different seems an understatement though. They were truly night and day in difference. Oddly I made one exactly per the recipe--completely plain. I also made a variant using cranberries and tangelo zest. For the second recipe, I went straight with the cranberries and tangelo zest. When you find a good thing, you don't toss it. I can assure you, cranberry and tangelo zest in soda bread are a VERY GOOD combination.

Bread #1 came from the March 2010 Bon Appetit. The picture shown online doesn't tell you much (hopefully my images give some idea of the texture...but I will reveal.... the rest of its story. This bread has a crusty exterior, deep wheat flavor and it kind of crumbly. It ought to be eaten with butter or marmalade or something to give it some moisture. Its baked free form on a cookie sheet and tends to expand out more than upward. It is a coarse filling bread and was enjoyed in the adapted cranberry tangelo format much more than its plain counterpart. It was eaten over the course of a couple of days by my co-workers and finished off by a friend of mine. Everyone seemed to like it and commented on the unique flavor and texture. One of the lab's faculty thought it reminded her of the flavor and texture of the bread she grew up with in Spain. She really loved it. I thought it was surprisingly coarse. I was honestly expecting something a little more light and moist.

Bread #2 came from Bon Appetit in 2002. There is no online picture so you'll have to content yourself with the ones I took. The crust of the bread again was more stiff than the inside but the inside in this case was moist, soft and almost cake like. I'm not talking about pound cake, either. This was light and dare I say almost fluffy. The contrast was nothing short of shocking. The bread was baked in a cast iron skillet but technique-wise, no differences. In terms of time to consume, there was a major difference. Seven people were able to eat half this cake bread in a single meal along with a meal full of Irish food (more on at a later date). Folks took some home with them and before I knew it there was only a quarter of the bread left. I had some this morning for breakfast...yum. It was still light and moist and delicious. It was lighter than I expected though. Honestly, I think I expected "Irish Soda Bread" to be something in between the two textures.

The ingredients seem to be the big difference. Whereas bread #1 was comprised of a blend of all purpose and whole wheat flour, bread #2 was only all purpose flour. Bread #1 used brown sugar, while bread #2 used white. Finally, bread #1 had a higher flour to fluid ratio than bread #2. Also, bread #2 included an egg which may have given it the more cake like texture. The thing is, these are details showing the differences. The most important thing is what you like. Its kind of like everyone having their favorite mac and cheese. There are a lot of ways to make it and everybody's favorite is a little different. Its good to try new things though. I'd most likely make bread #2 again while #1 wasn't my favorite but it might be just the bread you seek.

Do you have a favorite Irish soda bread?


(Bread #1) Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread, Coarse Style (adapted from Bon Appetit)


Nonstick vegetable spray
3 c. all purpose flour
3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch segments
2 c. buttermilk
1 c. cranberries (fresh or dried but fresh will make the cake juicier)
zest from 1 tangelo

How To:

Preheat oven to 425 F. 

Grease a cookie sheet. 

Whisk together both flours, brown sugar and baking soda. 

Cut in butter until the texture is composed of small pea sized bits. 

Add cranberries, zest and buttermilk. 

Stir until the dough comes together. Place on a lightly floured surface. 

Shape into a 9" round of dough (the round should be 1" tall) and place on your baking sheet.

Bon Appetit suggested cutting an X on top but I say go for whatever shape you want. I chose to cut a 1/2" deep clover in the top. Make yourself happy. The function is the same. 

Bake bread 45-55 minutes. When you thump it, the bread should sound hollow when done.

Note: This bread absorbs moisture from surrounding air and will be softer (in my mind improved) after a day or so.

(Bread #2) Soft Cranberry Tangelo Irish Soda Bread (adapted from Bon Appetit 2002)


5 cups all purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c. (1 stick) of unsalted butter
1 1/2-2 c. fresh or dried cranberries
zest from 2 tangelos
2 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 large egg

How To:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

Butter an oven proof skillet that is 10-12" in diameter. (This is the standard sized cornbread skillet I grew up with, cast iron of course.)

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. 

Cut in butter until coarse crumbs form.

Stir in cranberries and tangelo zest.

Combine buttermilk and egg together, then stir into dough. Stir mixture until all is well incorporated (the dough will be very sticky).

Transfer dough to the prepared skillet, smooth the top and mound slight in the center. 

Bake bread until a toothpick comes out clean (about 1 hour 15 minutes). 

Cool bread in the skillet 10 minutes. Turn out to cool completely or serve from the skillet. 


  1. Wow, those recipes contain a ton of flour! I was thinking it was similar to beer bread until I saw the amount of flour in them. But then I realized that the ratios were very very similar to that of beer bread, just the soda bread recipes make double the amount of bread. With bread #2 did you make a whole batch or a half batch? Will you be trying more soda bread recipes or will you stick with #2 for all your soda bread needs?

  2. Yes they do contain a lot of flour. I made the full recipe each time. You'd need a smaller skillet to make bread #2 in half. I only have one size and it matched the recipe. I'm sure you could make it in individual portions in a muffin pan though. Its a lot of bread regardless.

    I'd be interested in trying another recipe sometime but for now #2 is my favorite. Its one I would definitely make again.

    One person suggested making it a little sweeter. You could definitely do that if you wanted. Since the goal of this was not cake, I thought it was just right but I can see some ppl liking it sweeter too.