Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Irish Soda Bread and Being Polish
I am Polish. I am not from Poland. Neither are my parents. And neither were their parents. I don't speak Polish, unfortunately, and neither do my parents. But I am proud to say that my heritage is all Polish. My great-grandparents were the ones who came across the ocean from Poland. I have a complicated Polish last name. And I know how to pronounce the word "pierogi" correctly. So I guess I am an American of Polish descent. We Poles aren't known for much in popular culture. We don't have popular foods, like the Italians do. We don't have a day, like St. Patrick's day. Our ancient history isn't fascinating, like that of Egypt. We don't have a reputation for being especially funny or romantic or thrifty, like other ethnicities have. We have the Polka, but it's not really very popular. I mean, I don't even think they do it on Dancing With The Stars. And so, while perusing Polish recipes to try out for Easter, I decided to try Irish Soda Bread.
I have seen my parents make golabki, I've joined my sister-in-law in her yearly pierogi-making, and I've helped my grandma make chrusciki. And these dishes, like most Polish dishes I know of, all have two things in common. They taste great, and they are a pain to make. It's a long, multi-stepped process for each. Some can take hours to make. I honestly don't know any Polish foods I can just whip together. Those Poles really devoted a lot of time to their cooking.
Being Polish isn't easy. The language looks like it should be impossible to pronounce. Usually people can't get past the first three letters of my last name, and there's a lot more than three letters in it. There is no time of year or popular food or tourist hotspot that we can point to and say, "Yup, that's ours!" The one thing I can say that the Poles know for sure is difficulty. Our history is racked with invasions, one heart-breaking occupation after another. During the entire 19th century, there was no independent Polish state. But even though every revolution and uprising was crushed, they survived, with their faith and their language and their culture. My grandma, like so many Poles before her, had an unshakable faith. And the fact that Poles have overcome so many challenges and hard times for so long is source of pride. This is where I come from.
Being Polish isn't easy. You want to speak Polish? The pronunciation alone is a challenge. Good luck. You want to make Polish food? You better know what you're doing and have a whole day to spare. You want to dance the Polka? Go ahead, but I'll warn you, it's not all that cool. You want to learn about Polish history? You better be ready to read heart-breaking books like Forgotten Holocaust and Poland Betrayed.
In my attempt to reconnect with my Polish roots, I looked up some babka recipes to try out and was struck by how difficult they are. Difficulty is our heritage. The simplicity and ease of Irish Soda Bread looked a lot more promising. So, I made that instead, and it was absolutely delicious. I got the recipe from All Recipes and made a few changes of my own. I substituted half the flour for whole wheat pastry flour. I didn't have enough raisins (the recipe calls for three cups of raisins), so I used one cup of raisins and one cup of dried cranberries, which turned out very tasty. The recipe called for a cup of sour cream, but I substituted Greek yogurt. The recipe also calls for caraway seeds, which I didn't use. (I don't even know what caraway seeds are.) The directions require you to knead the dough a little, but I don't think that is necessary--the dough is really sticky and you'll end up making kind of a mess. All in all, a simple recipe resulted in a delicious sweet bread which I recommend eating warm with a smear of butter. Mmmm. So good.
So, here you go. Irish Soda Bread. Happy St. Patty's Day! (Hang in there, Polish babka. Your turn will come.)
Irish Soda Bread
From All Recipes
1/2 cup white sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups raisins (I used 1 cup raisins and 1 cup dried cranberries)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (I did not use these)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup sour cream (I used 1 cup Greek yogurt)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 inch round cast iron skillet or a 9 inch round baking or cake pan.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour (reserving 1 tablespoon), sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins and caraway seeds. In a small bowl, blend eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture into flour mixture just until flour is moistened. Knead dough in bowl about 10 to 12 strokes. Dough will be sticky. Place the dough in the prepared skillet or pan and pat down. Cut two 3/4-inch deep slits in the top of the bread in a cross. Dust with reserved flour.
Bake 65 to 75 minutes. (Mine was done after only 55 minutes.) Let cool and turn bread onto a wire rack.