When I lived in San Francisco, we always got our Irish Soda Bread from Star Bakery in Noe Valley. This was the place to get your soda bread. You actually had to put in your order early for St. Patricks Day, or there would be no bread for you.
But when the bakery closed its doors in the early “aughts” after nearly 100 years in business, I decided it was time to learn to make my own Irish Soda Bread. After all, you can’t have a proper St. Patricks Day dinner of Corned Beef without your soda bread!
It took me a few tries to develop a recipe that closely resembled Star Bakery. And while very good, I’m not sure my Irish Soda Bread will ever be as good as I remember those fresh loaves from the bakery, probably because memory and nostalgia are so strong. But I finally landed on the perfect combination of ingredients.
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What Exactly Is Irish Soda Bread?
In short, soda bread is a type of quick bread. These loaves are made without yeast. Not using yeast means that you don’t spend all that time waiting for the dough to rise (and rise again) before you back the bread.
The leavening for most of these breads is sodium bicarbonate and some activator (acid). In the case of Irish Soda Bread, the leavening is baking soda and buttermilk.
Almost everyone calls soda bread “Irish Soda Bread.” But according to Trafalgar.com, the Irish were not the first people to use soda for leavening. In fact, this is yet another food, like corn and tomatoes, that can be attributed to the “New World.”
Native Americans were the first people documented to use pearl ash (a natural soda formed from the ashes of wood to leaven their bread. The Irish later replicated this process. It may seem like Soda bread has been made in Ireland forever. Still, in reality, its history only began around the 1830s when baking soda was introduced to the country.
The ingredients for soda bread were simple and readily available back then. Flour, sour milk, salt, and soda. The bread also has a very forgiving nature in the method of baking. Because of these reasons, soda bread was one of the most basic foods that possibly sustained the Irish during the widespread famine.
The look of the bread came about due to the method of cooking. Out in the farmlands, there generally weren’t ovens. Baking took place over the fire, usually in a skillet or dutch oven, hence the round loaf. There are many superstitions about the “X” on top. But in reality, this was just the way the cook ensured the loaf cooked evenly and all the way through.
Today’s Irish Soda Bread Is A Bit More Refined
Nowadays, we spend a bit more time and effort in our baking. The Irish Soda Bread, with its humble beginnings, has become more refined. The ingredient list has grown a bit. Most soda bread today contains the following:
- Baking Soda
- Raisins or Caraway Seeds (depending on if you are going for sweet or savory)
I use a cloche for baking my Irish Soda Bread. You will often see folks recommend a cast-iron skillet for baking, but you can also use a dutch oven or even just a baking sheet.
Also, I use parchment paper to ease the clean-up and ensure the bread doesn’t stick to the cloche. This is totally optional. You can simply flour your baking surface to prevent any sticking.
Nine Easy Steps To A Great Loaf Of Irish Soda Bread
- Preheat your oven to 400⁰ – Place your cloche, skillet, or dutch oven in the oven to preheat as well. This is not necessary if you are using a baking sheet.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients
- Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (I like to use frozen grated butter, just like in my buttermilk biscuits)
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk up your egg, and add in the buttermilk
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until just combined
- Place a large piece of parchment paper on your work surface and dust with flour
- Turn out the bread dough onto the parchment paper and shape the loaf into a circle (you may need to add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. But don’t over knead the dough.
- Using a sharp knife, make a deep “X” in the top of the loaf.
- Place the dough (parchment paper and all) onto your baking vessel of choice and bake!
Irish Soda Bread is simple to make and the best accompaniment for Corned Beef Dinner or Irish Stew.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
- Caraway Seeds (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400⁰ - Place your cloche, skillet, or dutch oven in the oven to preheat as well. This is not necessary if you are using a baking sheet.
In a large mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients
Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (I like to use frozen grated butter, just like in my buttermilk biscuits)
In a small mixing bowl, whisk up your egg, and add in the buttermilk
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and raisins or caraway seeds if using. Mix with a spoon until just combined.
Place a large piece of parchment paper on your work surface and dust with flour.
Turn out the bread dough onto the parchment paper and shape the loaf into a circle (you may need to add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. But don't over knead the dough.
Using a sharp knife, make a deep "X" in the top of the loaf.
Place the dough (parchment paper and all) onto your baking vessel of choice and bake for 35 minutes or until the top of the loaf is golden brown.
If you are using a cloche or dutch oven, you can remove the top during the last 15 minutes of baking to get the golden-brown crust you are looking for.
When baking in a skillet or baking sheet, you may want to cover the top of the loaf with foil towards the end of the baking time so that the top of the loaf doesn't burn.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 186Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 252mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 5g
Nutritional Information is an estimate and will vary depending on the specific ingredients used
A Few Important Notes
Baking is when you should measure your ingredients carefully. If you add too much flour, your soda bread will end up crumbly and not hold together very well. If you add too much soda or buttermilk, your bread will be very dense.
The soda starts its leavening effect as soon as the buttermilk is introduced. You want to get the loaf into the oven as quickly as possible to get the highest loaf.
Because of the above, you can’t make your dough ahead of time and let it rest in the frig. The leavening agents will be gone when you bake the bread if you do this.
This recipe makes a smaller loaf of Irish Soda Bread. About half the usual size. There are only two people in my household, and soda bread doesn’t last long. By day two, the loaf is drying out.
Since Irish Soda Bread is honestly best eaten hot from the oven with a great spread of Irish Butter across the steamy slice, I stick with a smaller loaf. It’s easy to make the next day again if we want more.
You can double this recipe if you have a larger household. However, if you are doubling the recipe, you still only use one egg. You can freeze the leftovers if there are any.