This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone. ~ Taylor Caldwell, English novelist
One thing I love about food is its ability to bring people together – at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. It facilitates celebration and connection; comfort and joy.
Last night our house was so full the snowy boots and shoes pulled off upon entering were piled from the front door to the bottom of the staircase. (Yes, it would have made a great photo, but I set my camera and phone aside for the night in an attempt to stay in the moment.) There was laughter and chatter and a dozen or so squealing kids running free up and downstairs, fueled by Christmas cookies, happily distracted parents and the excitement of imminent holidays. W fell asleep on top of his covers close to midnight, a book in one hand and a Nutella-filled stroopwafel in the other. It’s been hard to resist crawling into bed beside him to disrupt his sleep with even more nuzzles and kisses.
This afternoon W and I are huddled under the covers, watching commercial-heavy Christmas specials and colouring pictures as a crusty loaf bakes, making the house smell like a warm hug. Baking was our Sunday afternoon salve; standing at the counter measuring and mixing, savouring and being grateful for those small 7 year old moments.
Soda bread, being more immediate than yeast-leavened loaves, don’t require waiting for dough to rise, nor any particular baking prowess when it comes time to shape and bake. It’s perfect no matter what you do; a good choice when you want an afternoon unfettered by performance anxiety.
We added cardamom, a warm spice related to ginger that perfect for the holidays, but it would be perfectly acceptable to swap cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice, or leave it out altogether. Soda bread takes on warm, earthy flavours well; try adding dried fruit or candied ginger or citron, or nog in place of the buttermilk.
Irish Soda Bread with Cardamom
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old fashioned (large flake) oats
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cardamom (or substitute cinnamon)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, cut in pieces
2 cups buttermilk (or half buttermilk, half eggnog)
1 large egg
1/2-1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, stir together the flours, oats, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom and salt; add the butter and blend with a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers until crumbly. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and egg with a fork; pour it into the dry ingredients, add the raisins and stir until you have a stiff dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 3-4 times, shaping it into a slightly flat ball. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and cut two deep slashes across the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until deep golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool, with a tea towel draped overtop to keep the crust soft.
Serve warm, in wedges.