When I was in Ireland I was served soda bread in every bed-and-breakfast house I stayed in (some ten to fifteen of them), and each one was different from the last. This is my favorite version, and one that is always eaten all up in one day in our house.

MAKES 1 LOAF, ABOUT 20 SLICES

2ВЅ cups unbleached white flour

ВЅ cup whole wheat flour

ВЅ cup sugar

Вѕ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

4 tablespoons butter, cut into bits

1 cup raisins

2 tablespoons caraway seeds

1ВЅ cupsВ buttermilkimage or plain low-fat yogurt

Milk to brush on top

  1. Preheat the oven to 350В°F. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and set aside. (If your dish is glass, then set the oven at 325В°F.)
  2. In a large bowl combine the flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Mix well.
  3. Add the cut-up butter and toss. With your fingertips rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add the raisins and caraway seeds and mix well.
  4. Add the buttermilk or yogurt and stir until the dough is evenly moistened, but don’t overwork it. If the dough is too dry add a little more buttermilk or yogurt until it is the right consistency for kneading.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute, or just until it is pliable; it will be sticky. Put it in the prepared cake pan and cut an X on top. (The easiest way to do this is to snip the dough with large scissors.) Brush the top of the dough with milk.
  6. Bake for 60 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the bread from the baking dish and let cool on a wire rack. Cool thoroughly before slicing.

NOTE: To avoid a crust that is too hard I put Irish Soda Bread in a plastic bag for the last half of the cooling time. I find it slices more easily when the crust is tender.