Truth: I am ethnically ambiguous. If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me what my nationality is, what race I am, where my family is from, or why my skin is milk chocolate in the summer and a translucent white in the winter…well, I’d have at least four paper-rolled stacks of nickels. And I would then be able to buy autographed photos of Leonardo DiCaprio on eBay. With less financial guilt.
But, unfortunately, people are keeping their nickels to themselves, and I’m still a confusing looking character. The common thought is that I’m either Asian, Polynesian, Native American, or Hispanic. Italian, too. And the fact is, I’m just mostly Irish. A little Italian, yes, but mostly just green and orange and Guinness flavored. Somehow my parents (mostly Irish with a dash of Italian) fused to make a quasi-Asian-Hispanic baby, and I have been telling people otherwise for 26 years. I would, however, consider myself lucky to be any number of races and nationalities.
And so, with my thick Jameson blood and meat and potatoes palate, I’m eating Irish Soda bread every morning this week to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. A fist sized muffin, warmed in the oven, split open to release a puff of hot steam, and smeared with a pat of butter. And several dozen cups of black coffee, just because.
I would love to tell you I’m using my Nana’s recipe, but really, Nana was the kind of woman you’d sooner ask to build a house than make you dinner. Mind you, Nana couldn’t tell you the difference between a hammer and a wrench. Though I loved her dearly, I will say that the only edible things she ever prepared for me were a glass of room temperature water and a frozen Caramello bar.
After her funeral a few years ago, my aunt handed me a 3×5” recipe card with Nana’s Irish soda bread neatly printed on top, and though it was the sweetest thought that Nana, a full-blooded Irish woman, could ever whip up a palatable sweet bread, it just simply…wasn’t true. So I instead framed the thoughtful recipe, put it next to my bedside, and found another Irish Nana. I kid. Sort of.
This Irish soda bread is someone else’s Nana’s recipe. (Dear Nana, I’ll soon make Caramello bars and think of you. I’ll also wear Christmas sweaters six months after the holiday has ended.) This recipe belongs to my dear friend, Nancy, and her grandmother. It’s just perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Did you hear me? Perfect. I turned the loaf into muffins, because, as you all know, I have a near-fatal attraction to cupcake tins.
Lovely lil’ tender muffins with moist crumbed centers, big juicy raisins, and the faintest flavor of sweet cream butter. They’re not quite as sugary as traditional muffins, and may taste more like scones in their crumbly, rich way. Brush them with melted butter while they’re warm from the oven, sprinkle them with sugar, and serve with a nice mug of tea or coffee.
Irish Soda Muffins
(makes about 15 muffins)
2 cups sifted flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup raisins
1 cup boiling water
Melted butter and sugar, about 2 tablespoons of each, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Start by placing raisins in a bowl with the boiling water (the water should cover them by 1”). Let them stand and plump with moisture while you prepare the batter.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the softened butter until the mixture resembles moist crumbs. Whisk egg and buttermilk in a small bowl and pour into the batter. Beat until well combined, being careful not to overmix the batter.
Drain the raisins and stir them into the batter.
Divide the dough evenly among greased muffin cups, filling each about ¾ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
While the muffins cool, brush the tops evenly with melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar. Let the muffins cool for 10 minutes in the pan, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.