The Last Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Irish Soda Bread
Irish Soda Bread. The oven rise partially closed the knife cuts. Rustic looks awesome. Ben Pollock photo

In Food Section World, this long-evolved Irish Soda Bread recipe would be published before St. Patrick’s Day. But in Brick World, I bake a loaf on St. Paddy’s, relying on collected recipes and sometimes a new one that pops up. Brick could schedule the recipe for March 16, 2013, but why wait?

Every newspaper every year notes that the original of this quick bread (referring to baking soda and/or powder, not yeast) was unsweetened, essentially a round-loaf whole-wheat version of hardtack. These articles then decry the Americanized eggy sugary raisiny white-flour version. The authors all conclude with their semiauthentic, palateable compromises.

The following is my amalgamation of some of the compromises. [March 2013 update: Below I’ve made the sugar 1-2 Tablespoons instead of just 1. The smaller is more savory, but 2 Tablespoons brings out the flavors; this still is far below the sweetener called for in many recipes.]

  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (dairy but can substitute soy or almond milk )
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (12 oz.)
  • 1 cup white flour (4.25 oz.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk (dairy, soy or almond milk )

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Plump raisins and caraway by soaking together a few minutes in 1/8 cup liquid (maybe 1 Tablespoon whiskey and 1 Tablespoon water). Combine 1 1/2 cups milk with lemon juice, let sit a few minutes.

Shaped dough, Irish Soda Bread
Shaped dough. It’s on the wet side this time so the knife cuts were shallow, but will allow the loaf to expand fully. Ben Pollock photo

In a large mixing bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients. Stir in the raisins and seeds.

Stir in the soured milk, mixing well for about 2 minutes with sturdy spoon or a hand. Add, 1 Tablespoon at a time, the remaining milk — until all the flour is moistened and sticky. You may not need all that half cup milk, depending on kitchen humidity.

Grease a cookie sheet or pizza pan OR cut a section of parchment paper to fit. Lightly dust with flour. Form the dough into a tight ball, place on the pan parchment sheet and flatten the loaf slightly, to about 3 inches thick. With a sharp knife, cut a cross or other basic pattern, about 1/2 inch deep. Option: Halve dough into two loaves.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is medium-to-dark brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Serve immediately. The loaf, wrapped, will keep a few days. Toasts nicely. Can serve simply (my choice) with butter or vegan margarine, or also with jam or the traditional slices of cheddar and apples.

Fourth and Goal

Completing the book list of 2011 shouldn’t be taxing. Its first entry after all took in the first three quarters. So where are we? Or to quote independent Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate James Stockdale (it IS a presidential year, after all), in a televised debate’s opening statement: “Who am I? Why am I here?” (which in context was a smart opening gambit, but misconstrued by pundits and comics).

With that, apologies for this being the Ides of March 2012. I had the draft, just hadn’t uploaded it. At the end of this month I should have my book report for this year’s first quarter. Or let it ride; we’ll see.

2011, Mid-September On

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte, a humor novel but it got boring somehow, did not finish. In the following months I kept seeing Lipsyte’s name so I got the book from the library again. Same opinion. Brick is tough on comic novels, and wimpy protagonists have gotten way too popular.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, collection of four “long stories.” I usually stick with lesser King, but there I was on Page 38 into the first novella, “1922,” and it was just a dysfunctional family taken to a bloody extreme. I wasn’t engrossed, just grossed.

House of Holes by Nicholas Baker. If there’s literary porn and magic realism then this must be literary magic porn. It is clever, and it should be ashamed of itself, but it’s not. Oh, it’s sexual, not erotic.

October 2011

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity edited by Michael Lewis, book on CD. A collection of articles about U.S. economic disasters since the 1980s. It was like listening to All Things Considered’s greatest hits. But the collection came out in mid-2008, thus kind-of before the current recession. Yes our Good Depression has old roots, explained here, but it’s more argument than fact.

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta. WTF about rock musician secondary characters? Continue reading


Mani languidly protecting 5 toys. The symmetric configuration is entirely his.
Mani guards 5 toys. The symmetric configuration is entirely his. Fifth is a plush tug toy parallel to the Nylabone behind his head. Black mass in upper left is Hopper.

I am not making this up. Nor did I touch the dog or his possessions. He did this.

Our 4-year Tibetan terrier Mani, whom we’ve had three years, loves Hopper, the stray young adult TT we adopted last Thanksgiving week. Inseparable. They can quarrel over toys, though.

Mani is the alpha although Hopper has 10 pounds on him (25 compared to 35). Mani keeps toys even when not playing with them. Hopper always lets him win. (They respect one another’s food, too).  Once we coalesced into the larger pack, within a month, all that turned old news by now.

What is extraordinary is how Mani arranged the booty last night while the humans watched Stewart-Colbert. Geometric. Three Nylabones at his paws, a fourth behind his head and parallel to his body and lying on part of a plush tug toy, parallel to the fourth bone.

We were told early on that Tibetan terriers tend to be tidy. This wasn’t, however, anything we’d noticed before. We like the breed for its medium size and moderate energy and relatively hypoallergenic coat. Otherwise both boys tend to leave things where they dropped them, like their people.

Two frames from 2001: A Space Odyssey showing a flying bone and a satellite in spaceMani could have an artistic sense of symmetry.

My third thought last night was the dog has developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, an otherwise human psychosis. OCD TT.

My second thought when I looked down from the sofa was Mani has seen the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. You know the scene, early in the movie, the apes receive an evolutionary (or counter-evolutionary) leap in wisdom, discovering tools, (for hunting, for food, for weapons). Our TT Mani, we better watch him, make sure those dew claws don’t develop into opposable thumbs!

My first thought? Grab the camera.

Heisenberg? Not Bad, Heisen You?

This column first was published as the “President’s Message” in the March 2012 newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

With certainty, the renown physicist Garrison Keillor noted in his radio spot The Writer’s Almanac:

On this date [Feb. 23] in 1927, physicist Werner Heisenberg first described his Uncertainty Principle in a letter. In a nutshell, the Uncertainty Principle states that the more precisely we can determine a particle’s momentum, the less information we have about its position, and vice versa. …”

As social Darwinism is an informal, psychological interpretation of biological Darwinism, there seems to be a social Heisenberg, especially for writers.

Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg

(Werner and Elisabeth Heisenberg had seven children, and he enjoyed playing the piano and mountaineering, Wikipedia tells us. As people of his time saw these activities as mutually exclusive, we can see how he came up with his principle.)

The principle’s scientific application, as I understood from school, is if for example a researcher takes stock of an electron as a particle it looks like a particle and if the electron is sized up with wave calipers then it acts as a wave.

Nothing’s original, but what I call Social Uncertainty Principle first came up in an early journalism job.

In about 1982 I covered a master class of guitarist Lee Ritenour at Texas’ Irving High School with notebook and camera. The assignment became a photo page with five or six shots and cutlines. I’m still proud of it, because I am not much of a shooter yet this was pretty good. But I came out of that afternoon jarred by how little music I heard while working.

I realized I had precisely observed a news event, even told the world (OK, a few thousand readers), yet I missed the joy of the music. Labeling it Uncertainty Principle gave me a warning I’ve tried to remember since.

Is There a Column in It?

Watching a presidential debate as a concerned American, even as a well-informed voter, is a casual experience compared to watching Republican throw-downs while figuring out what to write — what’s the opinion, how should it be cast and defended, and how to make it different from those of other columnists.

This is true for nonpolitical columns. When misadventure falls to the writer or a family member, the writer — reacting to the situation or right after — will be casting about for material: Is this an anecdote or just another blood pressure spike? Continue reading