Stephen Fries: Irish eyes will smile over these authentic recipes

While deciding upon the recipes to feature here for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (the official day is Saturday), I received an email newsletter from the Specialty Food Association with some mind-boggling statistics; “American’s plan to spend a record $5.9 billion to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, up from $5.3 billion in 2017, according to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Of those who plan to celebrate, 50 percent will purchase food, 41 percent beverages, and 16 percent candy. Consumers are expected to spend an average of $39.65 per person, up from $37.92 in 2017. The holiday is most popular among individuals 18 to 24 years old, with 77 percent celebrating, but those 35 to 44 will be the biggest spenders at an average of $45.76.”

To educate myself about Irish food, I picked up a copy of “Real Irish Food: 150 Classic Recipes from the Old World,” by David Bowers (2012, Skyhorse Publishing, $16.95). The author writes, “People in Ireland are sometimes mortified by what Americans think of as Irish food. That’s because the real thing is much subtler and more delicious than any platter of overcooked corned beef and mushy cabbage could ever be. Real Irish food is brown soda bread so moist it barely needs the yolk-yellow butter; fragrant apple tarts with tender, golden crusts; rich stews redolent of meaty gravy and sweet carrots; crisp-edged potato cakes flipped hot from a skillet directly on the plate.”

A couple of weeks ago, I began to see Irish soda bread, a favorite St. Patrick’s Day food, at bakeries. If you are a follower of this column, you probably know, I am curious to learn about food and their variations that become indigenous to holiday celebrations as well as the history of food.

The book has recipes for various types of soda bread from around the country, from the plain cakes with simple ingredients (flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt) to recipes that include eggs, butter, fruit and my favorite, caraway. There is also a soda bread that uses cornmeal. Below is a recipe for a basic white soda bread.

All wheat is not the same. The wheat crop in Ireland produces flour that is softer and lower in gluten than harder wheat. Yeast, the traditional leavening agent wasn’t as good at doing its job with the softer flour; it was necessary to wait quite a bit of time for the dough to rise. Baking soda did the job more efficiently. Thus the name soda bread. Soda breads are not unique to Ireland. Many cultures use baking soda in their breads.

The website of The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread ( encourages modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish roots and use the traditional ingredients/recipes when making traditional Irish soda bread. It says, “Just like the bagpipes weren’t invented by the Scots, the chemical reaction that makes soda bread what it is, wasn’t invented by the Irish. The earliest reference to using soda ash in baking bread seems to be credited to American Indians using it to leaven their bread.”

The author of “Real Irish Food” writes, “I have noticed the soda breads made by the American-Irish are a very different product from white soda bread in Ireland. They often have caraway seeds, something you never see in Irish soda bread. I suspect the Irish immigrants of long ago got to this land of plenty and thought, why are we eating this dull, plain bread? And so they began to make additions, and I say their bread is all the better for it! Here’s a plain white soda, however, the classic version, and even I have to admit that buttered white soda is good with a cup of tea or a bowl of soup, and it’s a nice accompaniment to a fry-up.”

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Stir in enough buttermilk to make a stiff dough.

Lightly flour a rimless baking sheet and turn out the dough onto it. Shape it into a large round. Lift it onto a baking sheet and slash the surface with a sharp knife to make an X about an inch deep across the entire surface. Makes 1 medium loaf, 6 to 8 servings.

Priscilla Martel , a colleague who teaches Food Writing at Gateway, an authority on artisan baking and co-author of “On Baking” and “On Cooking” was delighted to share her recipe for Irish Wheaten Bread. She said, “Irish Wheaten Bread is the simplest bread you can make. It is addicting and absolutely delicious. The flavor of the whole wheat flour gives it an unexpected sweetness. Although the texture is somewhat crumbly, the loaf slices neatly. No need to worry about yeast anxiety with this recipe. Irish Wheaten Bread is leavened with baking soda and goes directly into the oven after it is mixed. The entire process should take less than an hour. Bread Makes the Meal!”

Irish Wheaten Bread

Thirty minutes before baking, place a small pan for water on the lowest oven rack. Position a second rack in the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the flours, oats, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it between the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles corn meal. Gradually stir in the buttermilk adding just enough to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead lightly a few times to form the dough into a ball. Shape it into a uniform loaf about 7 inches in diameter. Press the dough lightly so that it measures approximately 11/2 inches thick. Sprinkle a baker’s peel or the back of a baking sheet with some rolled oats. Pick up the dough with your two hands and transfer it to the peel or baking sheet. (You could line the peel or baking sheet with parchment paper.) Using a serrated knife, cut the surface of the dough (about an inch deep) in a cross pattern so that the bread bakes into 4 neat quadrants.

Pour about 1/2cup of hot water into the pan on the bottom of the oven. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes until the loaf is well browned. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.

Notes: If you like to switch out ingredients, keep this in mind. No buttermilk? Combine 11/4cups of milk with 1/4cup of lemon juice or vinegar. Stir and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes before using. You can also use 11/4 cups of plain yogurt thinned with 2 Tablespoons of water and 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice. Looking for a vegan version? Combine 11/4 cups of nut milk with 1/4cup of lemon juice. Stir and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes before using. Use a good quality coconut oil in place of the butter.

This soda bread variation is from the McCormick kitchens and adds another dimension to the basic bread.

21/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons caraway Seed

1 teaspoon garlic Powder

1/4 teaspoon red Pepper, Ground

1/2 cup shredded Irish Cheddar cheese

2 eggs

11/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and seasonings in a large bowl. Stir in cheese. Set aside. Mix eggs and buttermilk in medium bowl. Add to dry ingredients; stir until well blended. Spread in lightly grease 9-inch round cake pan. Bake 30—40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Serves 12.

Tip: Make muffins instead of bread. Prepare dough as directed and divide among 12 greased muffin cups. Bake 20—25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Send us your requests: Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products are you having difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, he might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to


“Chefs of Our Kitchen” 2018 Series begin with: A culinary take on “This Is Us”: Siblings Elena Fusco, owner/founder of Bin 100 (Milford), Gennaro “Gerry Iannaccone, owner/chef at Goodfellas; and their nephew, Paul Iannaccone, co-owner/chef at Ristorante Lucé (Hamden) March 21, 6 p.m., Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven. 203-285-2617. $85. Tickets at Enjoy a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception and then watch the chefs demonstrate preparation of popular dishes from their restaurants, which will be served. Guests receive recipe cards signed by the siblings. The recipes demonstrated will be prepared by Gateway Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management students.

Wine and Cheese Pairing with Caseus Fromagerie, March 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Fletcher Cameron Kitchens, 91 Orange St., New Haven, 203-777-7707. $45. Fletcher Cameron has invited New Haven’s well-known Caseus Fromagerie to its ongoing Come to the Chef’s Table event series. Learn secrets of how to curate a flavorful and enticing artisanal cheese board paired with the perfect wines provided by The Wine Thief. Guests will leave with their own, beautiful custom cheese board made by Fletcher Cameron that they can use to entertain at home. Tickets at

Consiglio’s Cooking Demonstration and Dinner: March 29, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). Learn how to make saffron crab cake, winter fennel salad, three onion soup, pesto rubbed skirt steak pinwheels, chocolate pastry ravioli.