Having published a recipe for Irish soda muffins for St. Patrick’s Day, we hadn’t planned to feature Irish soda bread this year.
Then, we received this recipe from The Baker Chick and realized how much we wanted to tear into a warm loaf of soda bread and slather it with Kerrygold butter from Ireland.
So we bumped our previously scheduled Tip Of The Day for this suggestion: Bake a loaf of Irish soda bread. If you’re already at work, bake it when you get home. It’s delicious with dinner—or in our case, instead of dinner. (We can make a joyous meal of great bread and butter.)
Traditional Irish soda bread, the recipe below, has just four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Other recipes add butter, caraway seeds, chocolate, eggs, orange peel or zest, raisins and/or sugar.
The style of soda bread we enjoy in the U.S. is American-style, developed by Irish immigrants with butter, sugar and raisins.
We adapted the recipe to meet in the middle: no butter or egg, but a bit of raisins and caraway.
RECIPE: TRADITIONAL IRISH SODA BREAD
Ingredients For 1 Loaf
Traditional Irish soda bread has no raisins or caraway. Photo courtesy The Baker Chick.
1 pound (3-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins, sultanas or dried cherries, currants or cranberries
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
We couldn’t help ourselves: We added these optional, non-traditional ingredients:
But in the name of tradition, we held back on the butter, egg and sugar.
1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F.
2. STIR together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and pour in 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk. Use a wooden spoon or your hand to combine the ingredients. You want the dough to be soft, so don’t over-mix it. Add more buttermilk if needed to get the dough to come together.
3. TURN the dough onto a floured surface and give it just a few kneads (more will result in a tougher crumb). Shape it into a 6-inch diameter disk, about 2 inches high. Use a sharp knife to score a shallow X on the top of the loaf. Transfer to a cookie sheet or pizza stone and bake for 15 minutes.
4. REDUCE the heat to 400°F and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden, and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it.
For St. Patrick’s Day, spring for Kerrygold butter, made with milk from cows who graze
on the green grass of the Emerald Isle. Photo
THE HISTORY OF IRISH SODA BREAD
Baking soda, called bread soda in Ireland, was invented in the early 1800s. In those days most people didn’t have an oven—they cooked in a fireplace over coals or a peat fire (called turf fire in Ireland). They placed the dough in a lidded cast-iron pot which went right on top of the fire.
In County Donegal and County Leitrim, there was a tradition of adding caraway seeds to bread. Immigrants brought that recipe to the U.S. In America, the recipe evolved to include butter, eggs, raisins and sugar—ingredients which frugal housewives in Ireland wouldn’t have thought to add to the dough.
Today, the soda bread recipe options include:
White soda bread: all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk and optional caraway seeds.
Brown soda bread, also a traditional recipe that substitutes whole wheat flour for part or all or all of the white flour.
Irish soda bread with raisins and caraway, the classic Irish-American version also made with sugar, butter, and eggs.
Numerous modern recipes, from healthier variations of whole grains, flax and sunflower seeds to walnut soda bread to oat soda bread with browned butter, rosemary and black pepper.
Check out these and other recipes here.
FOOD TRIVIA: The cross cut into the top of the loaf before baking allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread. As a bonus, in a Catholic country it adds the symbolic note of giving thanks.