Irish Soda Bread

 Though found in many cultures, there may be nothing more iconically Irish than soda bread. There is, of course, the shamrock and (God help us) the leprechaun -- but few things say ‘Irish’ more than soda bread.
When I was very young I would sometimes accompany my father on his rounds in the countryside. He was, at the time, an agricultural instructor -- which would translate in the US as an extension agent. He would go around to various farmers who had asked for advice and there do soil tests, make suggestions on crop rotation or drainage or any of the myriad challenges that crop up the workday life of a small farmer. And at all of these stops he would be plied with food. This was (and probably still is) de rigeur in rural Ireland.
At many of these places, soda bread would be baked in a heavy skillet placed on banked embers of an open fire. It seemed, too, that a fairly standard way to check the heat of the pan was to spit on it and if the spit ‘hopped’ the pan was ready. My father was a fastidious man and I think it perplexed many of his hosts that he would refuse the soda bread. The skillet method makes perfect sense, of course. In the mid-1800s when soda bread was first being made (due to the introduction of baking soda from the US) few Irish peasant kitchens had anything as grand as an oven. Nowadays, of course, the oven is where you’ll most commonly find this bread being baked.
The bread is leavened by an interaction between the buttermilk (with is quite acidic) and the baking soda.
My mother made it regularly -- as well as variations on it, which might involve adding raisins or molasses. But these were more like cake than bread so, for now, I’ll stay with the basic recipe.

3 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F
In a large bowl mix the salt, the flour and the baking soda together. Add the buttermilk and stir it in until the mixture starts to come together in clumps. Form into a ball and place on a floured counter. At this point resist the urge to work to dough. Shape into a flat disk about a hand span across, place on a baking sheet, cut a deep cross into the dough (go about half way down into the dough) and put in the oven for about 40 minutes. You can check it to see if it looks done or you can carefully know the bottom of it and if it sounds hollow, then it’s done.
Set on a rack to cool for a while and consume with good quality butter.

7 comments

  • Neva Roa

    Neva Roa

    Thank you for the soda bread recipe. I love it and this recipe will be put to good use. I'm so glad to have found you once again. I had my house robbed and lost all my cd's of your music but will get them replaced I'm sure. Hopefully I can find the old recordings. God bless you all for the joy you bring.

    Thank you for the soda bread recipe. I love it and this recipe will be put to good use.
    I'm so glad to have found you once again. I had my house robbed and lost all my cd's of your music but will get them replaced I'm sure. Hopefully I can find the old recordings.
    God bless you all for the joy you bring.

  • Mick

    Mick

    Hi Neva ~ Sorry to hear about your house getting robbed. We'll be happy to help with replacing out-of-print recordings. We still have some old cassettes around, too ... And glad the recipe will get some use. All the best.

    Hi Neva ~
    Sorry to hear about your house getting robbed. We'll be happy to help with replacing out-of-print recordings. We still have some old cassettes around, too ...
    And glad the recipe will get some use.
    All the best.

  • Fred Spafford

    Fred Spafford

    Don't get to your gigs very often but love receiving your monthly newsletter. I don't keep buttermilk on hand. Can I make the soda bread with home made sour milk? ( A tsp of vinegar or lemon juice per cup of regular milk) Also would like to add some whole wheat flour. Any thoughts? Regards, Fred

    Don't get to your gigs very often but love receiving your monthly newsletter.
    I don't keep buttermilk on hand. Can I make the soda bread with home made sour milk? ( A tsp of vinegar or lemon juice per cup of regular milk) Also would like to add some whole wheat flour. Any thoughts?
    Regards,
    Fred

  • Mick

    Mick

    Hi Fred ~ Yes, you can use homemade sour milk. I admit I've not done it myself, but I'd be game to try and I'd do exactly what you propose. If you try it, let me know how it works out. And adding whole wheat flour works great and is actually very common in Ireland. Good luck! Mick

    Hi Fred ~
    Yes, you can use homemade sour milk. I admit I've not done it myself, but I'd be game to try and I'd do exactly what you propose. If you try it, let me know how it works out.
    And adding whole wheat flour works great and is actually very common in Ireland.
    Good luck!
    Mick

  • r0y

    r0y

    Oh how timely this is, Mick! This past St. Patrick's Day I "discovered" Irish Soda Bread, and was quite impressed with it's flavor. Our local market had some and it was sweet (probably had molasses) and so very good. I cannot wait to make this, then experiment with molasses and raisins and such. We miss you on the central coast of California!

    Oh how timely this is, Mick! This past St. Patrick's Day I "discovered" Irish Soda Bread, and was quite impressed with it's flavor. Our local market had some and it was sweet (probably had molasses) and so very good.

    I cannot wait to make this, then experiment with molasses and raisins and such. We miss you on the central coast of California!

  • Cordelia Cale

    Cordelia Cale

    Just checking to make sure it is ok to print out the recipe. I am baking a loaf for a birthday present and wanted to include your essay/recipe.

    Just checking to make sure it is ok to print out the recipe. I am baking a loaf for a birthday present and wanted to include your essay/recipe.

  • Mick

    Mick

    Roy ~ miss the CA central coast. We'd love to get back to San Luis Obispo. Where 'The Pooka and the Fiddler' was born ... And Cordelia ~ yes, please feel free to print the recipe and essay.

    Roy ~ miss the CA central coast. We'd love to get back to San Luis Obispo. Where 'The Pooka and the Fiddler' was born ...

    And Cordelia ~ yes, please feel free to print the recipe and essay.

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