Traditional Irish Soda Bread

I remember from a trip to Ireland that my friend’s mother lamented she could never make Irish soda bread in the US that could rival the Irish soda bread you could make in Ireland. She informed us that this was due to a difference of flour. One of the tasks we had to do was go shopping and bring bags of flour back from Ireland. So you see, I have some background with being particular over Irish Soda Bread.

You all know that I love my little town of Murphy’s. But there is one thing that makes my skin crawl and my eyes flash with fury. In March, our local market carries a manufactured yeasted hot cross bun without icing that is labeled and sold as Irish soda bread. This sweet yeasted bread bears not a speck of resemblance to Irish soda bread. I understand that it lets the manufacturer extend their hot cross bun production, but I’m not amused. True Irish soda bread is based on flour, baking soda, a dash of salt and preferably buttermilk. To this you may choose to add a tablespoon of sugar, currents, raisins or dried fruits.  You could modernize it with spices and fruits and play with your flours. But, once you take out soda as the leavening or add yeast – it simply is not a soda bread. There is a distinctive taste to the soda within the bread that does not appeal to all and the lack of any fats mean that it will dry to a brick and be a lovely doorstop the day after you’ve baked it (in Ireland, my sister likened eating soda bread to be as pleasurable as eating sawdust). I have a taste for and like the real thing. Do have to remember not to serve it to the locals here as I’m sure, given their expectation,  I’d be greeted with a loud GAACK from folks expecting a sweet yeast bread.

Now that I’ve set reasonable expectations, let’s proceed to the bread. An Irish soda bread is made like a biscuit. If you knead or work it too much it will toughen – light touch is required. I base my recipe on one by Marion Cunningham that’s in Baking with Julia (I understand this was companion to a series, though I never saw the tv show, great book with one top recipe from each of many renowned bakers).

Traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe:

4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups buttermilk

Maggie’s version Irish Soda Bread:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup raisins
2 cups buttermilk
Oven 375

Grease in 8 inch pie plate or baking sheet. Stir the dry ingredients together with a fork. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I like to press my baking soda through a tea strainer to ensure it has no lumps. Add the buttermilk and completely blend. Add the raisins. Turn onto a lightly floured board and work for a scant 1 minute. Do not overwork this dough. Pat into a six-inch disk an X across the top. Place into your pan or on your cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 50 min. until light golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool. This bread is delicious with some rich creamy butter and a cup of tea.

11 comments on “Traditional Irish Soda Bread

  1. I haven’t made soda bread in a couple of years now, I think I’m due. Looks tempting!

    • Maggie says:

      Well, I love the insides of the bread – but like a little kid, I’m not a fan of the crust – go figure. Usually, I slice and use it like sandwich bread – the wedge cut gives me too much crust at once. When wrapped tightly toast it the next day and it is still yummy.

  2. I have never had Irish Soda Bread. I will have to try it out! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Hi Maggie, yes, I detest when manufacturers try to turn one thing into another like that! We also feel similar in New York about our bagels and pizza dough, you cant make it the same elsewhere because of the water, at least that is what most bakers say! My mother often makes soda bread for this time of year. Your recipe is a classic and thanks for sharing it with us on the hearth and soul hop! All the best, Alex

  4. Unknown Mami says:

    The versions of Irish soda bread that I’ve had, I’ve really enjoyed and they probably aren’t as good as your recipe.

  5. Maggie says:

    I should add that this looks so much like the bannock I made earlier, but it tastes completely different (round, X in the top, raisins …).

  6. Aurelia says:

    I love soda bread, it’s great toasted with some pate or cold meats and cheeses. Never seen any with raisins in, I bet they made a great addition though and would be fantastic with some honey or jam on top 🙂

    I’m also taking part in the Hearth & Soul hop and that’s how I found your blog.

  7. cindy says:

    i will have to try your recipe with buttermilk. i have made it a few times before, but my family like SWEET breads, so i end up eating most of it by myself. i love it slathered in butter, and toasted the next day, it is wonderful.

  8. Anita Menon says:

    I have never tasted soda bread. would make them at the first instance. Thanks for the recipe. A lovely blog you have here.

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