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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)

Directions 
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.







4 comments:

  1. Awesome story! You are so right there is nothing known as polish. We are only known for our turmoil.

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  2. Thanks for writing such a great article, Mary! It made me proud. Actually, one of the greatest contributions of Poles has had quite an impact on the world today... that is the Solidarity movement; considered to be the first domino tipped over to bring down the Soviet Communist empire. During the Cold War and behind the Iron Curtain, a major reason for the survival of the Polish heritage was the huge proportion of Catholic Poles, estimate at the time to be over 90%. Sadly, I hear that number these days in Poland is less than 1/3rd. - your bro.

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  3. And don't forget such noteworthy Poles as Copernicus, who first put forth the theory that the sun is the center of the solar system; Madame Marie (Sklodowska) Curie, who discovered both radium and polonium; Chopin, who composed the Polonaises; Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla); General Kosciusko, who helped us win the American Revolutionary War; Henryk Sienkiewicz, who wrote "Quo Vadis;" and of course, Martha Stewart, who loves to bakes almost as much as you do, Mary. We have much to be proud of.

    Mom

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  4. Polish cooking has it's own Soda bread: Pieczenia Proziaki

    I'll call it Polish soda bread because despite being slightly more than 1/4 Polish, I can't pronounce any Polish words :D.

    To make Polish soda bread, you want to combine flour, baking soda, sour cream and a bit of honey or sugar.

    Feel free to cheat and use Greek yoghurt if you don't have sour cream. I use it all the time as it's healthier than sour cream :D.

    I mix about 2 cups flour, 1 cup sour cream (or yoghurt), 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 tablespoon sweetening (a large dollop of honey, or a Tbsp of brown sugar).

    I make sure to mix my bread and lightly knead it until it's elastic. If it's too sticky I add a little extra flour. You don't want to knead it much...just enough that the stickiness is gone and you can roll it into balls. I make 4 bread rolls with this recipe...or...you can also make one single loaf.

    I bake mine at about 180 C (approx 360-375F) on the convection setting in my oven for about 20 minutes (for rolls) to 35 minutes (for a loaf). If you don't have a convection oven, increase the temp to around 400F (200C) and maybe bake it a little long. You want it to be a nice round domed shape and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

    The traditional method to cook them is to fry them, or cut them into biscuit shapes and bake them. The traditional ones end up resembling a pita.

    Anyway, I hope that's enough to get you started enjoying guilt-free Polish soda bread that doesn't take all day to make!

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