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If you want to feel a great sense of accomplishment but don?t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, you might try your hand at soda bread. It is one of those easy recipes that provides nearly instant satisfaction and gratification.

When I was living in Lakeville, I made it frequently on spring afternoons when there always seemed to be time for tea with my daughters, then little girls. It didn?t take long, the house filled with lovely aromas as it cooked and it looked beautiful on the table along with a crock of butter, a jar of jam, a good cheese and a tin of our favorite French p??

It had been a while since I?d made soda bread, but this St. Patrick?s Day seemed like a good opportunity to revisit it. I was so pleased with the results that I?ve made it several times since. It is a perfect recipe when you have kids in the kitchen. A 7-year-old can easily make it with just a bit of help.

Soda bread is as important to Irish cooking as, say, tortillas are to Mexican cuisine. And like tortillas, the traditional recipe remains as important as ever, in spite of all manner of contemporary conceits that have been added. But tortillas that include nontraditional ingredients ? recently I?ve seen chipotles, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes used in commercial tortillas ? are still called tortillas. Soda bread that has such additions as eggs, cream, whiskey, currants or raisins is not soda bread at all, but soda cake, suitable for dessert but not for the main part of the meal.

It is important, I think, to understand and respect such traditions. And then do what you want, as I have done with these recipes.

If you assemble and measure all the ingredients before you begin to mix ? something you should always do ? you?ll be amazed at how quickly this dough comes together and how delicious the results are. It is best hot so if you have any left over, you can slice and toast it or heat it in a hot oven before serving. It is perfect alongside lamb stew and other slow cooked meats and equally good for either breakfast or afternoon tea. Serve it with good butter, honey butter, lemon curd, creme fraiche or your favorite jam. To make absolutely traditional soda bread, you should omit the sugar.

Almost-Traditional

Irish Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

?Butter, at room temperature

4cups all-purpose flour, preferably organic

1teaspoon baking soda

1teaspoon cream of tartar

1?teaspoons kosher salt

?cup superfine sugar

2cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Coat the inside of a 9-inch round cake pan with butter.

Put the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and sugar into a large mixing bowl and use a fork to blend thoroughly.

Make a well in the center of the mixture, pour in the buttermilk and use a sturdy fork to mix the buttermilk into the flour, working quickly, to form a soft dough. Do not overmix; the dough does not need to be smooth and it is OK if you see a bit of dry flour.

Turn the dough into the buttered pan, mounding it high in the center.

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Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake until the bread is golden brown on top and firm to the touch, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool for 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn out the bread and set it on a rack. Serve hot or warm.

Variations:

Use lavender sugar in place of superfine sugar or crush 1 teaspoon food-grade lavender and add it to the mixture with the sugar. This is particularly good at breakfast and for afternoon tea.

Omit the sugar. Add 1 teaspoon caraway seeds and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper with the dry ingredients.

This recipe, adapted from one in ?The Irish Heritage Cookbook? by Margaret M. Johnson (Chronicle Books, 1999), produces a more rustic bread with deeper flavors and a coarser texture, though it is nearly as quick to make as white soda bread. It reheats well in the oven or the toaster; if you have any left over, wrap it in a clean tea towel and use within a day.

Brown Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

?Butter, at room temperature

2cups all-purpose flour, preferably organic, plus more as needed

1cup whole wheat flour, preferably organic

1cup old-fashioned (non-instant) oatmeal

1teaspoon kosher salt

1teaspoon baking soda

?teaspoon cream of tartar

?cup sugar

4tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

2cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Coat the inside of a 9-inch round cake pan with butter.

Put the flours, oatmeal, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar into a large mixing bowl and stir with a fork. Stir in the sugar.

Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it is the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the center of the mixture, pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork or sturdy wooden spoon to form a soft dough.

Sprinkle flour over a clean work surface, turn out the dough onto the flour and sprinkle flour over the palms of your hands. Knead for about 30 seconds or until the dough comes together to form a large bowl.

Set the dough into the buttered pan pan, flatten it slightly and use a sharp knife to make a cross on top, cutting about ?-inch deep.

Bake until the bread is lightly browned on top and sounds hollow when the top is tapped, about 35 to 40 minutes.

This butter is delicious slathered on hot soda bread but it is important, I think, not to add too much honey. The first taste should be of good clean butter, with the honey adding a pleasing undertaste. Too much honey flavor, which can be quite aggressive, will eclipse that of the butter. If you do add too much honey, mix in another quarter cup (? cube) of butter to balance it.

Honey Butter

Makes ? cup

?cup (1 cube) organic butter (salted), preferably Clover or Strauss, at room temperature

2teaspoons honey, plus more to taste

Put the butter into a 2-cup bowl and use a fork to whip until it lightens in color. Add the honey and continue to whip until the honey is completely incorporated. Taste and add more honey, a teaspoon at a time, for a sweeter mixture.

Transfer the butter to a small crock or other container, cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts ?Mouthful? each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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