11/52 Irish Soda Bread Muffins

20170317_135057On Friday morning, St Patrick’s Day, Peanut and Meatball were all over the place. On the average morning, they race downstairs, find me at the kitchen table and immediately fight over who gets to put in his breakfast order first (not that they need to order, they eat the EXACT same thing every morning), but Friday, they were opening doors and looking under chairs and Mommy was confused. They were searching for evidence of a leprechaun.

When did leprechauns start harassing us at home?

When I was a kid, St Patricks Day was when we wore green. Full stop. Maybe we got shamrock stickers on a good year. In the *mumble mumble* decades since then, SOMEONE (I’m looking at you, Pinterest) has decided that childhood can’t have enough magic and now the leprechaun comes into our homes and keeps Mommies up at night trying to outdo each other. Somehow, I had NO IDEA, but was able to scrape one together pretty quickly. Fortunately, Peanut had put on a blue shirt and Meatball wasn’t even dressed yet, so I sent them up to change and get dressed while I frantically shook some green food coloring into the partial gallon of milk in the fridge. A recent windstorm helped convince them that before turning our milk green, the leprechaun also threw one of our patio chairs into the woods. They ran with it and reasoned that he couldn’t get in at night, got mad and messed up the furniture, then snuck in that morning when Wombat let the dog out. St Patty’s Day was saved, but seriously, WHY IS THIS A THING NOW? Also, Peanut wouldn’t drink the green milk, in case the leprechaun was trying to poison us. His exact quote: “I’m not sure the magic is safe for people to drink.” So, thanks, leprechaun (still looking at you, Pinterest).

Before we cooked our corned beef and cabbage, Meatball helped me make an accompaniment, Irish Soda Bread Muffins. I’ve made soda bread most years, the typical americanized version with caraway and currants in a round pan. I’ve tried a few recipes, and they’ve all been similar in flavor and dense, scone-like texture. Because data-mining algorithms are incredible, this muffin recipe from King Arthur Flour popped up in the ad bar of my Facebook feed Thursday night. I had planned to stop at the grocery Friday morning anyway, so adding currants to my list was a no-brainer.

Currants do not exist in Leonardtown, Maryland.

There are two groceries near the gym, so Meatball and I went shopping right after my workout. Two groceries and a liquor store (for Guinness, because priorities) later, still currant-less, I was lightheaded, grumpy, and eyeing the McDonald’s drive-thru, so we gave up on the quest for currants and used golden raisins instead. I chopped them up so they’d be distributed more like the smaller currants, and Friday was the first time either boy has happily consumed a baked item containing dried fruit of any kind! In fact, the entire batch was gone before lunch on Sunday, and only lasted that long because we wouldn’t let them eat 3 muffins each on Saturday. 8 thumbs up; forgot to get a yum scale reading from Peanut. These are much lighter in texture (like typical muffins) than my previous soda breads, and they also didn’t dry out as quickly. The recipe makes 12 muffins, which is a manageable quantity. Many recipes fill two 9″ pans; I’ve thrown out surplus soda bread more than once.

My notes are in bold as always. This recipe was pretty straightforward and like all King Arthur Recipes, clear and concise, so I didn’t have much to add. If you go to the website, you can get the ingredient list by weight as well (which is what I use, because it’s more precise and eliminates having to wash measuring cups).

Irish Soda Bread Muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour It doesn’t have to be King Arthur, though that’s what I have used exclusively for years, and it’s pretty widely available.
  • 3/4 cup King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder I use aluminum-free baking powder.
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups currants (first choice) or raisins Golden raisins for us, the only dried fruit everyone will reliably eat.
  • 1/2 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, to taste I used only a teaspoon this time, but will use 2 teaspoons next go-round.
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream I didn’t have quite as much buttermilk on hand as I thought, so I augmented with yogurt.
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted; or 1/3 cup vegetable oil I don’t know why you’d not use butter where it’s an option. 
  • sparkling white sugar, for topping Sparkling white sugar is very pretty and makes a nice glittery crust atop the muffins, but table sugar would also work, though the crust will be finer and more subtle. Raw sugar is another option, with the coarseness of the sparkling sugar but not as, well, sparkly.


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a standard muffin pan; or line with papers, and grease the papers. I never greased muffin papers before reading it as an instruction in the Bread Bible. It really does make a difference in removing the papers from finished muffins. Completely worth the extra few seconds to do it. Rainbow muffin papers aren’t required, but Meatball thought they would be nice for St Patrick’s Day (I had forgotten we even had them. He’s such a good little pantry forager.)
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, currants or raisins, and caraway seeds.

    Mixing dry ingredients is Meatball’s jam.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk (or equivalent) and melted butter (or equivalent).
  4. Quickly and gently combine the dry and wet ingredients; honestly, this won’t take more than a few stirs with a bowl scraper or large spoon. As soon as everything is evenly moistened, quit; further stirring will cause the muffins to be tough. Overmixing danger is real, but it’s worth doing one more turn along the bottom of the bowl. What’s worse than overmixed batter? A pocket of completely dry flour.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full; the stiff batter will look mounded in the cups. I used my 1/3(ish) cup disher and overfilling the disher just slightly was the perfect amount for each muffin. Top with sparkling white sugar, if desired.
  6. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove them from the oven. Tip the muffins in the pan, so their bottoms don’t get soggy. This means pop them up and set them still in the tin on their edges to let the steam escape. They’ll be screaming hot, so if you’ve not yet developed asbestos-tipped baker’s fingers, use a skewer or thin spatula to lift them. fullsizeoutput_2b3cWait 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a rack to cool. Serve them plain, or with butter and/or jam. We enjoyed ours with Irish butter. I’d love to say I bought it special for the occasion, but we just eat (copious amounts of) Irish butter around here.fullsizeoutput_2b3d



A Day Without a Woman

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – My husband’s Day Without a Woman is a drive to the airport, a flight to Vegas, and the beginning of an annual boys’ weekend. An educated and intelligent, capable man, he has apparently misinterpreted the point of today. The trip was planned months ago and I am figuring out when I’m going to cash in my own weekend away, but my zen vanished when he asked to have the last cup of coffee before he embarked on his vacation. He lives still because he cooked all weekend and we are still basking in delicious leftovers (Arroz con Pollo and Skillet Calzone).

Wombat (not what his mother named him; you may have noticed I don’t use my family’s real names) wasn’t much of a cook when we met, but early in our relationship he challenged me to a bet (I don’t remember what the bet even was, probably something about sports because he was extremely confident), and the loser had to cook dinner for the winner and watch the movie of his/her choice. I brought over Mary Poppins and he made me chicken Cordon Bleu, lemon asparagus, and Bananas Foster. Turns out we both won because that meal was the beginning of his culinary interest, and now at least two weekends a month, he is working on some new recipe he found in a magazine or online. He has come light years from the guy who left me a voicemail at work wondering where the grocery keeps the lemon zest (“I got lemon peel, lemon pepper, and then a whole regular lemon just in case.”)

As a (mostly) stay at home mom, I haven’t the luxury of taking today off (especially under the circumstances), and with Wednesday being my day with the most kid-free time, abstaining from economic stimulation wasn’t going to happen either. Kids have to eat and we were out of the following this morning: milk, apples, bagels, broccoli, and Frosted Mini Wheats. These are THE foods the boys will reliably eat. If we were also out of butter and baby carrots, starvation would soon follow. I dropped Meatball at preschool and hit two groceries (regular grocery and warehouse store) and spent an undisclosed amount of money on beautiful produce (berries were on sale! so was spinach!) along with the staples on my list. Then I returned home and lovingly shelved and stored all the healthy victuals before digging through the freezer and helping myself to more than a serving of Samoas (I support all women, including future women). I believe it was Julia Child who said “All things in moderation, including moderation” and even if it wasn’t, it’s a damn good way to live.

We are going to have leftovers one last time tonight, and the next two evenings aren’t going to be conducive to experimentation in the kitchen. Do not fret, you are getting a recipe this week! It’s just not a NEW recipe, not to me at least. For at least 3 years now, I have been corning my own beef for St Patrick’s Day. It brines for 10 days and really does blow commercial corned beef out of the water. This year I’m only brining for 9 days because my brisket this year is smaller than in years past and also I forgot. All the time is in the waiting, and there is little additional work, so why not give it a try? I’d lecture here on historical authenticity and cultural preservation, but this isn’t Irish food. Corned beef and cabbage is an American invention, along with what we call Soda Bread. So let’s keep the “ish” in Irish!

Clockwise from the left: juniper, ginger (duh), cloves, cinnamon, and (obviously) allspice and mustard seeds

Alton Brown (my husband’s original culinary muse, aside from me of course) published this recipe in Good Eats 3 and it can also be found here.

Corned Beef, for Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons saltpeter Optional and I’ve never used it. It’s primary function is to make the meat pink. I can live without that, especially if it means I don’t have to buy something I know I’ll only use once a year.
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds ice
  • 1 4-5 pound beef brisket trimmed I’ve always used grass-fed beef for this recipe as we buy a quarter or a side annually and have a brisket on hand. I can’t imagine that the flavor would be much different with conventional beef, especially after 10 days in brine. This year’s brisket is much smaller and I’m quite concerned that we won’t have enough leftovers for the accompanying hash recipe, which is heaven.
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. I have never seen 2 gallon zip-top bags at any market in three states. I have used oven bags in past years but this year I am halving the recipe for my smaller brisket and using a 1 gallon bag. Seal and lay flat inside a container because you do NOT want brine all over the fridge if your bag springs a leak, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. I flip the bag and wiggle it a bit to mix and distribute the brine.

Let the brining begin!

After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Tune in next week for Corned Beef and Cabbage. St Patty’s Day is on a Friday, so we even get a dispensation from the Pope this year!