I remember this bread fondly, a family friend made this, along with his world famous corned beef and cabbage, every year to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. What an amazing treat! The welcoming smell of soda bread followed by bear hugs and beer, join in making an amazing addition to your new traditions.
This bread is incredibly easy and delicious. It has a cakey texture that makes it great with tea or coffee. No toasting, butter, or jam needed. Resist the temptation to slice it when it's still warm. It will crumble under your hands, so let it cool completely.
The best tips I can offer are to use fresh ingredients, especially the baking powder and baking soda, look for juicy raisins without preservatives where possible, and bake in a 10-inch round, ceramic, or glass baking dish. A round, straight-sided dish is best (not a pie dish with slanted sides). You could substitute a metal cake pan, but not a very dark metal non-stick pan, because the top will likely burn before the interior of the loaf is cooked.
1-1/2 cups buttermilk, cold (you may need a little less or more)
2 large eggs, cold (yes, cold)
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all purpose, unbleached white flour, plus another 1/4 cup for dusting. Any all purpose, unbleached flour is fine but King Arthur's all purpose unbleached flour (not cake flour) seems to work well.
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon iodized salt (table salt)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus a few teaspoons for greasing baking dish
1 1/2 cups dark seedless raisins (can substitute seedless golden raisins or dried cranberries)
Preheat oven to 375° F and position rack in center of oven. Generously grease the baking dish with a few teaspoons of butter. Dust the baking dish with flour by scattering a small handful of flour inside the dish, then shake it around so that the bottom and sides are coated. Turn the dish over and tap out any excess flour.
Pour the buttermilk into a medium bowl or measuring cup. Break eggs into buttermilk and whisk with a fork to just combine. Add baking soda and whisk to just combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Scatter 6 tablespoons of cold chopped butter over the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or, if you don’t have one, use two table knives in a criss-cross motion from edge-to-edge of the bowl to cut in the butter. The butter should be visible in small bits throughout the flour, not completely absorbed.
Gently stir in the raisins. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour 1 cup of the buttermilk mixture into the well. Stir gently with a wooden spoon (do not use your hands) until flour is moistened. Use a spatula to gently fold any dry flour from the sides and bottom into the wetter dough. (Fold gently, don’t whip the dough or over-stir.) Add more of the buttermilk mixture as needed, in small amounts, to create a dough that is neither too wet nor too dry. You may need more or less than 1 1/2 cups buttermilk. If you need more liquid, plain buttermilk is fine. The dough should look lumpy and be more wet than dry.
Dust a little flour on your hands, then shape the dough quickly and roughly into a ball, without over-handling it. Transfer the dough ball to the greased and floured baking dish. Use the back of the wooden spoon to spread the dough in as few strokes as possible to edges of dish.
Use the handle end of the wooden spoon or your index finger to make a shallow cross (1/4 inch deep) on top of the dough, top to bottom and side to side. This is to encourage the bread to rise in quarters for easier slicing. Very lightly scatter a tiny bit of flour over the top of the dough.
Place the baking dish in oven and bake about 45 minutes, but check after 40 minutes—bread should be golden-brown and look set. Test by inserting a knife in the center of the bread. If there is wet dough on the knife, bake for up to 10-15 minutes more to an internal temperature of 190° F. Do not over-bake.
Remove from the oven and let bread cool in baking dish about 10 minutes. Remove from baking dish and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. The loaf keeps very well for a few days, wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap.
If you can't eat the loaf right away, wrap it carefully in foil or pop it into an airtight container as it tends to dry out quickly. If you want to take care of your significant others hangover, try a savory take on pain perdu with a side of crispy bacon and an over easy egg. The bread also freezes if well-wrapped and kept in the freezer for no longer than a month or two. Let the loaf defrost slowly before warming slightly in a medium-hot oven for 10 minutes to refresh it.