So we’re back from Arizona for less than 24 hours. The suitcases are spilling clothes, the living room is cluttered with opened books and toddler shoes, and the refrigerator needs cleaning. Besides that fact, I didn’t touch the computer for longer than 10 minutes while we were away, spending most of the day sitting on the back patio in 73° weather, sipping iced tea while watching Little Bean playing in the backyard gravel. (I had no idea a kid could be this excited about rocks.) This was utterly lovely in the moment.
The moments at home, realizing how much work I have to do after 5 days away? Not so much.
So I should have chained myself to this beast of a machine and not released myself until those blue-pen items on the long to-do list were crossed off with a flourish. Did I do that?
“What should I bake?” I wrote on Twitter.
Aside from all else, I missed baking. Turns out that baking every day with my daughter is one of the best places of peace I know. We stand in front of the large bay window, she drawing with crayons and trying to reach the buttons on the kitchen scale. We talk and giggle, listen to music, and watch something new form from humble ingredients. Five days away from the counter felt far worse than five days away from the computer.
The answers came in. Everyone wanted something different: chocolate cake, Boston cream pie, potato bread. All on the list. But I wanted something new, something for this day, today.
Irish Soda Bread. They started pouring in. Oh right. Today’s St. Patrick’s Day.
Now I have to tell you, my definition of St. Patrick’s Day in this country is pretty pithy: green beer, green plastic hats, green vomit. For those reasons, I normally ignore it.
But St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, in 1999, in a tiny town on the cliffs of the west country, with my best friend Sharon, the two of us standing in the crowd cheering on the locals in flatbread truck floats as they walked the parade? That was one of the best moments we’ve ever shared.
(And of course, I meant flatbed trucks. But I’m leaving it. Thanks to Jess for pointing out that typo.)
And the Aherns? Well, pure Irish, of course. We had to celebrate somehow.
Someone suggested this, from Deb of Smitten Kitchen: Irish soda bread scones. Not only do I adore Deb as a person, but I trust her recipes. They always work. And she’s starting to list ingredients in grams!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone. Try not to vomit green into fountains. Have some lovely soda bread buns, instead.
Irish Soda Bread Buns, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
These are heaven. They’re soft, exactly what I wanted. It’s hard to imagine that gluten-free buns could be more tender than the originals, but from Deb’s description, I think they are.
“On day one, they’ve got a craggy crust and a warm, plush interior; they love butter and you love them. On day two, they have a density, especially when your big toe breaks their fall, that could threaten your efforts to reign in your foul language now that tiny, impressionable ears linger about.”
(I love her.)
These are actually plush, pull-apart little loaves of bread. I’m happy enough with them that I’m using these recipe as the template for creating the cinnamon raisin bread I have been craving. You might see that here soon. In the meantime, pull out your kitchen scale and start making these.
20 ounces gluten-free flours (I used equal parts almond flour, super-fine brown rice flour, millet flour, sweet rice flour, and potato starch)
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
2 1/2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 softened, 1 melted)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I actually used rice milk for this, making my own buttermilk)
1 cup dried fruit (this was Turkish apricots, but currants are traditional)
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 400°. If you have a baking stone, make sure it’s in the oven. Pull that scale out of the drawer.
Combining the dry ingredients. Mix the gluten-free flours you are using, the sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a food processor. (Of course, if you don’t have one, just use a whisk. Mixing the flours together makes a big difference in the baking.) When the flours have become one color, you’re done.
Mixing in the butter. Drop the softened butter into the mixed flours and pulse the food processor a few times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Again, you can do this in a large bowl as well, with a pastry blender or your fingers.)
Making the dough. At this point, if you have been using a food processor, dump the flours into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Combine the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the liquids liquid into the well and stir them together with a rubber spatula. When the dough is cohesive but still shaggy, stop.
Baking the buns. Now, at this point, if you are more precise than I am, you will cut the shaggy dough into 8 even pieces and roll each one of them into a ball. Me? I just grabbed softball-size pieces of dough, making sure my hands were a little damp with water, and rolled them into large balls. Or, you might like small rolls instead of mini loaves. In that case, go for 16 pieces here.
If you have a baking stone, put the buns directly onto the baking stone. They will bake beautifully here. If you don’t have a baking stone (and we did not before last week), put the buns onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or Silpat) and slide it into the oven.
After about 5 minutes of baking, open the oven door. The wet dough will be hardened enough for you to slash a slice (or cut a cross) across the top of each roll. If you wish, you can also spread a bit of melted butter on the top of each roll. Close the oven door and keep baking.
The length of time it takes to bake these will depend on how big the rolls are. Mine were softball size, and they took about 20 minutes. Can you insert a skewer or toothpick into the center of the roll and have it come out clean? Are the tops nicely browned? Then you’re done.
Makes 8 mini loaves or 16 small buns.