Baking for Bookworms: Irish Soda Bread from Alice McDermott’s Someone


Alice McDermott’s book follows the life of an Irish immigrant in all its stirring little moments and complexities. It’s a quiet book that is definitely worth a read. There is plenty of food mentioned in the novel, but I really liked this moment between Marie, the narrator, and her mother where her mother tries to impart a little bit of cultural wisdom onto her daughter who has hitherto been resisting with all her might:


“ ‘It is time,’ my mother said, ‘that you learn a few things.’

On the narrow, corrugated tin of the drain board beside the sink, there was the flour bin and a bottle of buttermilk, and a tin of caraway seeds. On the small table beneath the window, a bowl and a spoon and the measuring cup. There was as well a narrow card on which she had written in her careful hand the recipe for soda bread.

It was time, my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.”   53


Cooking and learning to cook has a staggering amount of cultural and social meanings and connotations in this short passage. On one hand we have the ‘simple’ process of transformation—raw ingredients into something else. There’s also the transmission of culture to generations, the tension between youth and growing up, and the relations between a mother and her child. This all adds up to some pretty complex bread.


Luckily, this recipe is anything but complicated. It’s probably the easiest bread I’ve ever made. There’s no finicky yeast to deal with, there’s no waiting interminably for the bread to rise… you can make this bread in under an hour if you have all your ingredients ready.


Soda Bread recipe slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.



  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk (or 5 tsp of white/ apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with the milk filled up the rest of the way to the 1 ¾ cup mark, stir, and let sit five minutes—I like apple cider vinegar’s flavor in baked goods. You can also use this trick on non-dairy milks)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ¼ cup flour (plus more for kneading and dusting)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cold and cut in cubes
  • 1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional but very yummy)


Preheat oven to 425F. You can use a cast iron skillet, cake pan, or regular baking sheet for this bread—just grease it.

Mix the buttermilk (or sour milk) with the egg. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the raisins and mix.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, and pour in the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. When the mixture becomes too stiff, turn it out on a floured surface and knead just until it comes together (about 30 seconds). You can add more flour if needed. Form into a rough ball and place in baking pan.

With a sharp knife, score a large X in the dough, which will help it cook evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark and cooked through (if you think your bread is getting too dark, you can turn down the heat to 415F and continue cooking).

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. This bread can be served warm or at room temperature and is great with all manner of things. It’ll dry out quickly so wrap any leftovers well or freeze them!


Is there a food you learned to cook with a family member? Let me know in the comments!

I remember making lots of cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip especially. I learned different baking recipes and techniques from virtually everyone in my family from my father’s waffles to my Nana’s challah.

Baking for Bookworms: French Onion Soup from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


There’s nothing better on a gloomy fall day than soup. Especially if it’s French onion soup inspired by Harry Potter…It’s the little things in life, really. French onion soup will always have a special place in my heart. This is by no means a quick recipe, but the flavor explosion is well worth the effort.

The seventh book is not the first mention of French onion soup in the series (Molly Weasley makes it too), but its appearance in this book signifies the creation of a new home. With all the upheaval the main characters face, it’s natural that after leaving behind everything they’d known they’d seek refuge in a familiar place. Their treatment of Kreacher says a lot about the kinds of people they’re going to be, and it shows that even the most hardened hearts can be swayed by love and respect.

This soup comes towards the beginning of the book, right after Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave the Burrow:

“He began to spoon soup into his mouth. The quality of Kreacher’s cooking had improved dramatically ever since he had been given Regulus’s locket: Today’s French onion was as good as Harry had ever tasted.”   (227)



  • 4 pounds onions (halved and cut into 1/4 inch slices)
  • 3 tbs butter cut into three pieces (if you use salted butter, use less salt)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or white wine (if you don’t use wine for cooking, just throw in  a 1/4 cup chicken broth or beef broth)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

for the top:

  • small baguette cut in slices
  • shredded or sliced gruyere

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spray a casserole dish with vegetable spray. If you have a Dutch oven, this is the time to break it out–I don’t have one, so I made do with two casserole dishes (though you could use a 9×13 inch pan). Or if you’re not making this for a crowd, you could easily halve the recipe and it would all fit in a casserole dish.


Anyway, put a lid or tin foil over the dish (adding the butter and some salt and pepper on top) and put it in the oven for an hour. After an hour, take it out and stir it. Then stick it back in for at least another hour, or until the onions are soft.


Take the dish out of the oven and transfer it to a large pot (this is where the Dutch oven would come in handy because you could just put that on the stove). Cook the onions over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until all the juices evaporate (15-20 minutes). Keep cooking it a little longer until the onions start to brown and then add 1/4 cup of water, letting it evaporate.

Onions should be this dark before adding your sherry and broth.
Onions should be this dark before adding your sherry and broth.

Repeat the process of adding the 1/4 cup of water and letting it evaporate 3 more times, or until the onions have a gorgeous, dark caramel color. Then add your wine, if using and let it evaporate (5 minutes or so).

Stir in two cups water, chicken broth, beef broth, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for half an hour or more.

When you’re ready to eat the soup, throw it in some broiler safe crockery. Top with a toasted baguette slice (I put mine in the toaster oven with a little butter) and add the gruyere. Buy a baguette or be like me and forget to buy it and bake it instead (recipe follows).


Put the ramekin-type things on a rimmed baking sheet and put under the broiler until bubbly, about 3-5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes or so and then serve.

Adapted from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.


Quick French Baguette

If you’ve been curious about making yeast breads, this is a good bread to start with, it’s fast and almost foolproof.

Adapted from this recipe from Girl Versus Dough

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
  • 3-3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt


In a bowl or in a stand mixer, whisk the yeast with the water and let sit for 5 minutes. Add flour and salt and whisk or use a paddle attachment and combine. Either knead the dough by hand for ten minutes, or use the dough hook on the stand mixer and mix on medium speed for five minutes.


When the dough is smooth and stretchy, shape it into a ball and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place for an hour, or until it doubles.

Punch the dough down, divide into two pieces, and roll each piece into a twelve-inch long log. Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let the bread rise a little more while you preheat the oven to 400F (around 20-30 minutes).


Remove the plastic wrap and slash the dough several times with a sharp knife. Put the baguettes in the oven, reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until golden brown (20-25 minutes).

Take the loaves out of the oven, spritz them with a little water to deepen the color, and transfer them to a cooling rack.

The house smells wonderful when you spend the whole day baking. What’s your favorite thing to make in the fall?