Since 2004, Farm to Market Bread Co. bakes and distributes about 2,500 loaves of its seasonal Irish soda bread leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. Available for a two-week period until March 17, the bread has remained in high demand annually as customers purchase loaves from store shelves throughout Kansas City.
Farm to Market’s Irish soda bread is a modern update on the traditional loaf made by generations of Irish in poor households that only had basic ingredients. Traditional recipes combined flour, baking soda that was used as a leavening agent instead of more expensive yeast, soured milk to moisten and activate the soda, and salt. Farm to Market’s version adds golden raisins for taste, raw sugar for sweetness and butter that adds richness.
No preservatives are used in preparation, so the bread has approximately a two-day shelf life. Once delivery is made within hours of leaving the oven, the loaves are ideally purchased and consumed within a few days.
“We deliver our breads to retail grocery stores seven days a week,” says company vice-president John Friend.
Friend explained the steps as bakery team members demonstrated the handcrafted process of making Irish soda bread from raw flour to baked loaves. Dry ingredients are mixed thoroughly first; hard red winter wheat flour, baking soda and cream of tartar are blended in an industrial mixer by a rotating metal arm. Golden raisins, which Friend says the company uses for the flavor profile, are added next.
Assistant production manager Nelson Rodriguez folds in the raisins evenly and then adds cold unsalted butter. He incorporates it into the flour mixture by hand before resuming the mechanical blending process. Finally, milk is added to the mixture. “The baking soda and cream of tartar will react with the buttermilk to create carbon dioxide and leaven the bread,” explains Friend.
As the gas forms, it creates air pockets within the dough as part of the chemical reaction. Time is of the essence to complete each stage of making the dough and preparing the loaves. If the chemical reaction were allowed to run its course, the dough would be tough and less airy – “like a pancake.” Speed, skill and teamwork are important to transform raw dough into fresh-baked airy loaves of Irish soda bread.
Once the dough is ready, Rodriguez separates the entire batch into 20-pound portions that are weighed to be exact. The portions are loaded onto flour-dusted boards and then stored on a rolling baking rack. Rodriguez wheels the rack to a coworker, who operates a machine that gently compresses the portions evenly with a specific pressure. The machine also cuts the dough into one-pound portions. The process is repeated for the entire batch. Individual portions of dough are once again loaded onto flour-dusted trays and stored on a baking rack.
The rack is moved to another station, where production manager Max Watson takes individual rectangular pieces of dough and dusts them lightly with flour. Watson quickly and carefully shapes the dough into rounded loaves. Those loaves are brushed twice with an egg wash by a coworker. The final stage involves dusting the dough with turbinado sugar and baking the soda bread on racks in industrial ovens at 370 degrees for up to 35 minutes before cooling, packaging and loading for distribution.
On a much smaller scale, Friend says shoppers could make this bread at home. Of course, it’s much easier and less time-consuming to pick up a fresh loaf from the supermarket. Farm to Market’s loaves of seasonal and year-round hearth are baked fresh and delivered daily to restaurants and grocery stores across Kansas City and in Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita.
Farm to Market, farmtomarketbread.com