I use a blend of all-purpose flour and cake flour in an effort to mimic the soft, low-protein flour grown in Ireland. I added a small amount of mashed potatoes for further tenderness and some good moistness, along with the tender parts of celery for its gentle texture and deeper cooked flavor, and scallions for their deep green and bright flavor.
And about the slashing of the top: "Most soda bread recipes call for an “X” slashed into the top before baking. According to www.kitchenproject.com, there are several explanations for this. It may honor the Christian symbol of the cross, or it may be the baker’s way of “letting the devil out” during baking. Most likely, it’s simply a technique for making it easy to divide the bread into four pieces." To be honest, I'd never thought of it in any of these contexts. In culinary school, I was so thoroughly inculcated with the fact that bread must be slashed in order to direct the direction in which the baker wants it to expand as it rises because expand it will. I'm very happy to have the blinders lifted.
A note on the beer. Do use a good Irish-style lager. It's going to have a bright quality to both its flavor and color. I used one made by one of my favorite breweries in the beautiful mountain town of Red Lodge, about an hour's drive from where I live. Fortunately, all the local grocery stores also carry it. —boulangere
1 round loaf
fingerling potatoes, about the size of (please don't take this the wrong way) your middle finger—enough to yield about 1/2 cup mashed
fine-grained sea or kosher salt
1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 teaspoons
fine-grained sea or kosher salt
celery and leaves from the tender inner stalks, 1/4-inch dice
scallions, green & white parts, 1/4-inch dice
Cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces and place in a saucepan with cold water to cover and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, and cook until quite tender, about 15 minutes. Drain using the pan lid to hold back the potatoes, and add butter to the pan. Mash in the pan with a hand masher.
While potatoes are cooking, preheat oven to 400° F.
Sift the all-purpose and cake flours, baking soda, and salt into a mixing bowl. Press any remaining lumps through with your fingers.
Add the mashed potatoes, celery, scallions, yogurt, beer, and honey. Stir to blend with a spatula or a wooden spoon just until all dry ingredients are moistened.
Scatter about a half cup of all-purpose flour on your work surface. Use a plastic scraper to pull the dough out of the bowl. You're not going to knead it as much as you're going to bring it together into a ball (flour your palms too) and gently toss it in the flour to coat it. When it has a nice round shape, set it on a baking sheet lined with parchment (or dusted with flour). Use a serrated knife to carve either an X or a cross—tomato, tomahto—about 2 inches long in the center of the top. Take a look at the photo in the slideshow here. See how much the loaf bloomed open as it rose? Seriously, no more than 2-inch cuts.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until surface is deeply browned and you can tap on the more tender center of the X/cross and it feels bouncy, not soft or wet.
While the bread is baking, clean up your work area.
When bread is done, remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing.