Battle of the breads: who will win?

Celebrity judges will decide the best Irish soda bread


What says St. Patrick’s Day more than Irish soda bread, Guiness, and a good time with neighbors? Evelyn Heredia’s annual Irish soda bread-making contest is this Saturday, March 9 at 2 p.m.

“I like to incorporate more of the community to come and participate,” Evelyn Heredia, who organizes the event, said. “Because it’s all about that — trying to reach to the community to participate in fun events like this.”

The contest first began more than 10 years ago. Pennie Schwartz, the head of Phoenix Chiropractic Wellness, in Malverne, was inspired by Throwdown! with Bobby Flay on the Food Network. An avid baker herself, Schwartz started her own Irish soda bread throwdown.

“It started growing,” Heredia said. “We started with three breads, and then four breads, and the following year six breads.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” she added. “We’ve just been growing and growing.”

Last year saw an all-time high of 11 different bakers presenting their Irish soda breads, all vying for that number one prize.

The contest had taken a brief hiatus after Schwartz retired, but Heredia picked it back up again in 2018. And then, of course, the pandemic hit. The competition gained new significance after it revived in 2022.

“Right after the pandemic, everything was so — well, not happy,” Heredia said. “We wanted to find things that were happy.

“So that’s a big thing — reaching into the community, and having them become part of what we’ve made it into.”

Celebrity judges come to evaluate each soda bread. Prior judges include former mayors Patti McDonald and Keith Corbitt, and Gerry Hughes of Connolly’s Station. This will be current mayor Tim Sullivan’s first year judging.

And the judging is serious business. Each bread is assigned a number to remain anonymous, and then evaluated based on specific criteria: presentation, freshness, moisture, crumb, even browning, balance of flavor, and shape. And no butter allowed! At least, not until the judge tries the bread by itself.

The winner gets not only bragging rights, but a basket full of Irish-themed prizes like Bailey’s Irish Cream, and decorative St. Patrick’s Day mugs. They even get a letter from the county congratulating them on their baking skills.

Competitors drop their soda breads off by noon, and the judging begins at 2pm. When a winner is announced, everyone is invited back to snack on the delicious traditional Irish dessert — and to enjoy some Guinness to top it off.

The judging begins at 2pm this Saturday, March 9, at Phoenix Chiropractic Wellness at 301 Hempstead Ave., in Malverne.