You Don't Have to be Irish to Love Kathleen's Soda Bread

I find it physically painful to purchase a ready-made baked treat I could make myself. When you bake at home you know two critical things. You know what you are putting into your cookies and you know how much what you are putting in costs. To pay $2.50 for a single, albeit large, chocolate chip cookie is highway robbery. Not to mention, half the time the cookie is a stale disappointment. But when a craving calls, and I have been too lazy to bake a batch myself, what’s a girl to do? As with so many things you do with the knowledge you shouldn’t, the end result is a kind of sick, empty feeling with the added attraction of crumbs clinging to your sweater.
Like the other night, I was going to the movies with a friend and we stopped at Starbucks to pick up lattes and cookies—yes, we were sneaking in ‘outside refreshments,’ shhhh. The selection had been reduced to a jagged, misshapen remnant of an M & M cookie and a crumbly looking oatmeal. No thanks. So, with cups in hand we went to the adjacent gourmet deli to reassess our choices. I would have been happy with my usual box of Junior Mints but my friend was drawn to the table in front piled high with cellophane bags of Tate’s cookies.
“What, are you crazy?” I asked. “They’re $6.00!” Plus who knew how long they’d been sitting there. I lost the battle. (And then wound up spending $4.00 on Juniors at the concession stand, instead of $1.00 at the deli, because I was being an indecisive pain in the neck). I started to think about Tate’s. Years ago there were Kathleen’s Cookies made by Kathleen King in Southampton who had one of those local girl makes good stories. She sold her cookies at her family’s farm on the east end of Long Island, gets out of college, starts in a small place selling a few things, winds up buying a bigger place and getting distribution around the area until Kathleen’s cookies are in the fancy market near you. Part of me has always been a little jealous of her story. Not that I would have done particularly well on a farm as a child, or an adult, but what a nice way to make a living. That is, until she lost her name.
I don’t know anything about anything legal but I can’t imagine what kind of business decisions lead to a person losing the use of her own name in connection with a line of products she has created. All I know is that one day Kathleen’s had different packaging and it looked suspiciously corporate. Not long after I noticed bags of Tate’s Cookies in the market, which looked suspiciously un-corporate, and just like Kathleen’s old cookies. Long story longer, Kathleen had to turn into Tate (her father’s nick-name) due to the whole legal mess I don’t understand.
The name issue is something very close to my heart. I have this thing where if someone forgets my name, and/or gets it wrong, I have to hate him or her forever. Maybe that seems like a bit of an overreaction but it comes from having had an unusual name back in the day (before Sex and the City ruined everything) which people often butchered or simply forgot. “Amanda,” “Matilda,” “Melissa,” I was called them all. All but "Miranda." You’d think people would remember an uncommon name more than a common one but they don’t. And who wants to feel unmemorable? So, when I heard about the Kathleen/Tate name debacle, I made it about me and thought if someone took my name, and used it for him/herself, I’d be devastated. Hands off, it’s my name.
Meanwhile, in 1990 I bought a copy of The Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook having been drawn to it by the recipes for the lemon squares and the peanut butter squares which were sold at a gourmet store, along with the eponymous cookies, near my parents’ apartment. Oh my, so good. Not to mention the moist blueberry muffins (no wonder, they have even more butter than a cupcake), cranberry-nut and pumpkin breads. I was just starting to bake regularly on my own and her cookbook was a go-to for so many brunches and holidays. I still turn to it whenever I want something homey and straightforward and she never disappoints.
And now, time for my confession. My righteous indignation over my friend’s cookie purchase was completely without merit. What I didn’t cop to was that only the week before I spotted a new (to me) variety of Tate’s cookie, broke down, and coughed up $6.99 at the even more over-priced deli on my corner. Chalk it up to a combination of weakness and research but I couldn’t help myself. This Tate’s Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Chip option was very good and I finished the bag in two days. The point is, they tasted exactly like Kathleen’s and so really, what’s in a name? Just please don’t call me “Melinda.” You will truly be dead to me.
I’ve been making Kathleen’s Irish Soda Bread forever and her recipe is great. I use currants instead of the hated raisin and I went a little healthier this year trying a 75/25 combo of all purpose and whole wheat flours. If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour just go with all all-purpose. The dough is very sticky but don’t worry, you can always flour your hands to make it easier. The yield is two loaves which I like because then you can give one as a gift or freeze to have on hand. If you don't feel like being generous, or you have no room in your freezer, divide the ingredients by half and make one loaf. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
You Don’t Have to be Irish to Love Kathleen’s Soda Bread
Adapted, Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook, by Kathleen King, St. Martin's Press 1990
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3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (NOTE: I used Irish butter that was salted to be even more authentic. If you do the same decrease the salt above to 1 teaspoon.)
1 cup dried currants
3 Tablespoons caraway seeds
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Using a pastry blender, two knives or a fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add currants and caraway seeds and toss lightly.
Add buttermilk and toss mixture with a fork until all dry ingredients are moistened. Don't be worried, the dough will be really soft.
Form dough into a ball and lightly knead on a floured board for about 30 seconds or until dough is smooth.
Divide dough into two equal portions and shape into balls.
Place them on cookie sheet and, with a sharp knife, cut an X on top of each loaf about 1/4-inch deep.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until crusty and golden.
Yield: 2 loaves


Anonymous said...

I too am an ardent admirer of Tate's chocolate chip cookies. Tonight I dined at a restaurant called The Redhead on East 13th near First -- on the way out they gave us each one of their chocolate chip cookies. It was sublime. Dinner -- including Meyer lemon pots de creme -- was also splendid

Miranda Levenstein said...

Lucky you! I got an oatmeal raisin at The Redhead, my least favorite.