Tender Biscuits: Irish Spotted Dog

2014 0316 IMG_4060 Irish soda biscuitsSupermarkets are piled high with Irish soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day.  Traditionally made with only flour, baking soda, sour milk or buttermilk, and salt, soda bread can be a dry affair. Add some raisins, and it becomes more flavorful, and more colorful as it assumes the moniker “spotted dog.”  (A relative of the raisin pudding known as “spotted dick?”)

I passed up the supermarket variety, opting instead to follow the lead of Melissa Clark, food writer at The New York Times, and whip up a batch in only 30 minutes.  Calling hers “soda bread buns,” she added sugar, butter and an egg to the traditional four ingredients, and folded in caraway seeds and currants. She also used a combination of white flour and whole wheat pastry flour, which imparted a slightly nutty taste while still yielding a tender crumb. Clark’s recipe gave measurement in both weight and volume. I tend to favor weight when working with flour and here it was a good thing. My all-purpose flour was heavier than hers, possibly since I used unbleached. As with drop biscuits, you need a light hand when combining the wet and dry ingredients or you will end up with hockey pucks.

I liked Clark’s suggestion to shape the dough into eight patties instead of one big loaf. This allows every bite to savor the delicious crust. Whether authentic or not, these were light and fabulous served fresh from the oven. If not consumed immediately, they’re best served within mere hours of baking, though toasting or griddling them the next day works great. I won’t wait until St. Patrick’s Day to make them again. 

Oh, and remember to follow tradition and snip a cross into the top of the dough before baking. It lets the bad spirits out. You can always use the luck of the Irish.

Irish Soda Biscuits with Caraway and Currants adapted from Melissa Clark, New York Times

115 grams (1¼ c) all-purpose flour plus more for dusting

95 grams (¾ c) whole wheat pastry flour

55 grams (¼ c) sugar

1½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3 tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes

1 large egg, room temperature

2/3 c buttermilk, room temperature plus a little more for brushing

2/3 c currants (or raisins)

1½ tsp caraway seeds

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly oil it).

Place the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine.

With a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and stir in the buttermilk. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until moist dough forms. Lightly fold in the currants and caraway seeds.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into a circle about 7 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges. With lightly floured hands, pat each wedge into a ball and place it on a baking sheet, leaving 2 inches or so in between.

Snip a small “x” in the top of each biscuit with a pair of scissors. Brush the tops lightly with buttermilk and lightly sprinkle with flour.

Bake until golden brown and slightly firm, 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes on a rack before serving.

Makes 8 three-inch biscuits.

Categories: Quick breads and muffinsTags: ,

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