Falsetti: Irish soda bread to add joy to your kitchen

For The York Dispatch

Back in the day, when a young woman (and many a man, too) set up housekeeping, a thoughtful mother or grandmother would provide them with the only cookbook they would ever need.

“The Joy of Cooking” first came out in 1931 during the Depression. After her husband’s suicide, Irma Rombauer, a former socialite, found herself widowed and penniless. To scrape together some money, she decided to produce a cookbook.

More of a hostess than a cook, she gathered a few dessert recipes she had in her repertoire and asked friends and relatives for contributions. The first copies of “The Joy of Cooking” were self-published and sold door-to-door.

“The Joy of Cooking” was different from other cookbooks of the period. The recipes were written in a conversational tone with whimsical asides from the author that made a home cook feel as if she were at your side with spoon in hand. The book enjoyed instant success, and Rombauer soon found a publisher. “The Joy of Cooking” has been in print continuously since 1936 and has sold more than 18 million copies.

I have a well-worn copy of the 1975 edition. In addition to more than 4,500 recipes, the book gives detailed explanations for everything, from how to beat an egg to how to skin a rabbit. Even with the advent of the internet, it is still the first place I turn for advice on how to handle a new ingredient or a new dish.

Below is Rombauer’s recipe for Irish soda bread. It makes a small loaf, enough for a couple of people. Since this quick bread is best enjoyed fresh from the oven, this is not a disadvantage. I adapted the recipe using butter instead of shortening and doubled the sugar to make it a tad sweeter. I’m sure Rombauer would have approved.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter (chilled)

1 cup raisins

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 egg

2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture has the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds.

In smaller bowl, beat together the egg and buttermilk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir to mix well. Form a ball and knead briefly. If the dough seems too wet, add a bit of flour.

Place the dough in a greased 8-inch cake pan or cast iron skillet. Pat the dough down so it fills the pan. With a sharp knife, cut a deep cross from edge to edge. This will keep the bread from cracking. Brush the top with milk. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.