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Slow down and think about how to connect with God and your community as you make Rosemary Cheddar Irish Soda Bread with Eliza Cortes Bast.

The chilled yet hopeful transition of winter to spring is marked for me by the senses. I look forward to the vibrant pops of green that peek out from the most unexpected places as winter gives up the ghost. I sit closer to the windows and feel the sun begin to warm my skin again. As the days begin to stretch back out, like a dog from a nap, I enjoy bright mornings and later walks, my ears perking up at the chirping of birds. In my kitchen, there is the scent—and eventual taste—of one of my family’s seasonal favorites: Rosemary Cheddar Irish Soda Bread.

There are a thousand things I love about bread. I love that every culture has some sort of form of it, whether it be flat, puffed, round, or long. I also love the proliferation of speciality grains and wheats, from gluten-free and paleo to ancient grains like spelt. For Irish soda bread, I love its versatility and adaptability, both in pairings and in flavoring. As nurseries begin selling fresh herbs to prepare for spring, this version of bread is just begging to emerge fresh and fragrant from your oven. It also helps that its leavening agent is baking soda, so it can be ready for dinner in less than an hour.

As a multi-ethnic family living by neighbors who share similar heritages, I was anxious to share this bread. Hardcore enthusiasts will tell you that Irish soda bread should be served slightly sweet, studded with raisins instead of fresh rosemary and cheddar. However, after finding out that one of our quarantine neighbors loved fresh toast in the morning, I decided to make my move. It was time to be bold!

When I bake for my neighbors, friends, and families, I try to focus on who will eat it. How can I pray for them? What do they need? What have they expressed concern or joy about that I have not followed up on? I slow my world down so I can enter theirs.

As I shape the dough with my hands, I imagine laying hands on my neighbors and praying for them. I ask for God’s nearness and blessing on them. As the bread fills my home with its aroma, I think of the Scriptures that talk about our prayers and activity going before God in the same way. Baking and sharing bread has been an amazing way to connect, to give, to even “prayer walk” through my community and circle of people before I even leave my home.

There is also nothing that screams “gathering” like fresh bread out of the oven. I could call my husband and kids to the dinner table with mixed responses. It is far quicker for me to pull fresh bread or biscuits out of the oven. Wordless, the bread beckons the family swiftly and obediently to the table. The joy of this particular recipe is that it makes two loaves.* It provides for both the gathering of my own family and the giving away for someone else’s gathering.

My anxiety around the bread meant that my neighbors received both the bread and cupcakes, a fail-safe in case the bread was not as loved across the street as it was in our home. A week later, in the safety of our lawns, I experienced a wave of greeting and gratitude, along with these words: “Thank you for thinking of us. The bread made the most amazing toast.”

Featured recipe

Rosemary Cheddar Irish Soda Bread

Recipe adapted from the Foodnessgracious blog (see original recipe here)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 cups buttermilk
  • 1 whole large egg

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly flour a non stick baking tray or spray with a non stick spray.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, pepper, rosemary and cheese.
  • Add the egg to the buttermilk and beat until mixed.
  • Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and lightly mix through until it becomes sticky and a ball forms.
  • Dump the dough out onto a flour dusted work surface and roughly knead the dough. Then divide the dough into two loaves.
  • Place the loaves onto your prepared baking tray. Take a sharp serrated knife and cut an X on top of each loaf.
  • Season the top with some more salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 25-32 minutes and the top is golden brown.
  • Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing and serving with butter.

Additional notes: Experiment with different types of cheddar for interesting flavors. If you do not have fresh rosemary, dried rosemary will also work.

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Eliza Cortés Bast

Eliza Cortés Bast is coordinator for Local Missional Engagement and special projects for the Reformed Church in America.