Traditional Irish Soda Bread: The Real Deal

Growing up in Ireland, I lived on the ubiquitous and ever popular Irish Soda Bread. More a meal than anything else, soda bread is proof that great things can come from simple ingredients.

Soda Bread is not an ancient Irish recipe contrary to what people like to believe and Bicarbonate of Soda (what Americans think of as “baking soda”) was introduced to Ireland in the 1840s. Early versions of an American Colonial Soda Bread were leavened with potash (a forerunner of Baking Soda). 

Soda Bread is an everyday fixture of many Irish kitchens and not a special occasion bread though it is treated as such by some people on Saint Patrick’s day. It is economical and quick to make as this early recipe shows.

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Source: The Daily Review, Decatur. Illinois, June 17th, 1917

There are two main types of Soda Bread: Brown and White. Both types make a dense, flavorful bread perfect for daily fare such as stews, sandwiches, and snacks. It’s wonderful with smoked salmon and with cheese too. A slice of warm bread with lashings of butter and jam is perfect with a cup of tea or coffee depending on your preference. In fact, some people seemed to believe that a good bread even made for a good marriage.

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The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 4th, 1933

My personal favorite is Brown Soda Bread. I’ve made the recipe (below) for years,and the batch size can be doubled as needed.

Traditionally, soda bread does not have sugar, fruit, or caraway seeds. The bread itself is delicious without any additional flourishes, though sometimes I will make a loaf with dried cranberries. I’ve found, though, that those loaves never seem to be finished whereas the traditional loaf seems to disappear quickly.

Brown Soda Bread

Brown Soda Bread

  • 3 cups of wholewheat flour (sprouted or not)

  • 1 cup of white flour

  • 1 teaspoon of salt

  • 1 and a half teaspoons of baking soda

  • 14 ounces of buttermilk added gradually

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  • Grease and flour a dutch oven or a pair of same size cake pans.

  • Sift the dry ingredients together.

  • Add the buttermilk and form the contents into a large, sticky loaf.

  • Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured area and knead lightly, forcing the dough into a rounded loaf.

  • Place the dough in one of the pans and with a floured knife, cut the bread in quarters to the depth of a half inch to form the shape of a cross. This is supposed to keep the devil at bay.

  • Place the other greased pan on the top of the pan with the dough (or out the lid on the dutch over) and slide gently into the oven.

  • Bake for 30 minutes.

  • After thirty minutes, remove the lid and cook an additional fifteen minutes.

  • Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes before turning it out of the pan. A cooked bread makes a hollow sound when tapped on the underside.

  • Wrap the bread in a clean tea towel and sprinkle with water to keep it moist.

  • Slice when cool for best results.

White Soda Bread

  • 4 cups white flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 14 ounces of buttermilk

Follow all the same instructions above.

man-48116_960_720Note: An effective short cut is to make the dough a little wetter and drop it into the pan like a giant drop cookie. Like teenagers searching for trouble, it’ll find its way to the right shape, though the dough will be too damp for cutting so you can skip the cross. However, if you are plagued by demons later, you’ve only yourself to blame and should sprinkle the loaf with Holy Water before wrapping it in a clean tea towel.

Should you choose to add fruit to your bread, soak it first in hot tea, or, even better, hot tea and Irish Whiskey. This will prevent the fruit from drawing moisture from the bread. If the bread is too damp and sticks to your fingers like a leprechaun clings to his gold, add more flour and knead gently.

For larger batches, check the center of the loaf with a toothpick before moving it from the oven. If the loaf is done, the toothpick will come out clean.



18 Replies to “Traditional Irish Soda Bread: The Real Deal”

  1. Dying. “However, if you are plagued by demons later, you’ve only yourself to blame and should sprinkle the loaf with Holy Water before wrapping it in a clean tea towel.”

    Mmmm…soda bread…and now I’m really hungry, despite actually have eaten some of the delectable goodness earlier just this evening. Sigh.

    In this world of low-carb and gluten-free, there’s something absolutely subversive about soda bread…and this post, now that I think about it.

    1. As breads go, this one is better than many. It is not as high in carbs as gluten free bread (for those who have that option) and is extremely filling. Within moderation, this is the one I would choose. You make me think I should write up the nutritional values. I suspect tje devil will bypass all teachers. He’s already afflicted you with No Child Left Behind–his work is done. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. You know, if you are going to enjoy a carb, I recommend this one. No added sugar (unless you add the dried fruit) and the addition of complex carbs gives a sensation of fullness for a long time, especially when enjoyed with a hot drink. Skip the soda and the processed food and make room for this in your life. You won’t be sorry. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Okay, now I have a new bread to try. The green font is a nice touch.

    I just love how your personality comes through, even in a recipe. With all that’s going on at home, you’re still making others laugh.

  4. I love traditional Irish soda bread, and haven’t made it in forever (I really need to get a great Dutch oven so I can make the perfect Irish bread, don’t I?). They humour you always write with is a delight. Some day I’m going to find that gene. My Irish grandmother must have given it to one of my siblings.

    1. We need to do your bread idea from before. In terms of a dutch oven, even a cheap one will do. You sell yourself short on the humor though this bread will cure a wealth of ills and ensure good spirits in anyone. The Irish spirit is a complex thing and no one does darkness more beautifully IMO. Perhaps the bread is your cure? Thanks for reading and commenting too. Hugs and sláinte.

  5. I loved this post! I was thinking of making soda bread yesterday but didn’t have enough time before dinner. I had no idea of what it consisted of. Fascinating really. I’m not in touch with the Irish part of my heritage sas I ought to be. Thanks for sharing this experience and adding your own humor into it!

    1. Amy, it is so easy to make, especially if you use a dutch oven. I would recommend a slice with tea and the audiobook, Mobility Matters. That book is inspiring on many levels. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. I love your humor and your Irish. Have always enjoyed soda bread, but your recipe is a have to try. And I will remember to protect myself from demons. Enjoyed the green font.

  7. I wish I liked soda bread. I really do. I will eat it smothered in butter or clotted cream and jam. But then, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Are there alternative means of protecting myself from demons??? I could use some help, I think.

    1. Each teaspoon of fresh Irish Creamery butter is the equivalent of twenty masses, five confessions, and three Stations of the Cross and has antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral, anti-emetic, and anti-demonic qualities. Both clotted cream and jam were recently designated as nutraceuticals. Just looking at any of these items ensures a lifetime of health and bounty. These facts are brought by Kerrygold, the national butter of Ireland. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    1. Rod, I’m happy to hear that. Speaking of Top O’ The Morning To Ya, the last time I said that was to some local lord as he came round the corner on his way to a hunt (think 1972 here). I’d convinced my younger sister and Irish twin that this was the right thing to say, and so we said it in our American accents. He was tickled pink and laughed with delight as his horse ambled off trailing his laughter. No better place in the world to grow up than in Ireland. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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