How to Make Irish Soda Bread at Home
Don't let St. Patrick's Day go by without learning how to make soda bread! This simple Irish loaf is the perfect addition to any homey dinner.
I’ll never forget my first encounter with soda bread. While road-tripping across the Irish countryside, my friends and I stopped at a farmhouse-style restaurant in County Clare. We were invited to relax by a giant hearth and served a simple bisque to warm up after a dreary day (seriously, farmhouse cooking is the best!). With the soup came a thick slice of soda bread.
I grew up on Wonderbread, so I was fascinated by this rustic loaf. One bite and I was sold. I immediately set out to learn about Irish soda bread—and to master making it myself.
What Is Irish Soda Bread?
Before I fill you in on how to make soda bread, let’s talk about what this Irish bread actually is.
First, know that soda bread is a type of quick bread—meaning it’s yeast-free. Instead of leaning on yeast to give the bread lift, Irish soda bread uses—you guessed it—baking soda.
These loaves are also free-form; no pan is needed for baking. Instead, soda bread is formed into a round loaf and then slashed across with an X. According to Irish lore, this mark is for “pinching the fairies out.” It’s said that if you don’t do this, the bread will be cursed by fairies hiding inside. Although I don’t believe in magical creatures, I find it best not to test my luck. Practically, though, this X helps the bread expand evenly as it bakes so it doesn’t split in unsightly places.
Soda bread is also freckled with a variety of mix-ins. Raisins, currants and caraway seeds are very traditional, but you’ll find there are lots of Irish soda bread recipes out there that call for all kinds of extras. One of my favorites is this garlic and onion soda bread. Overall, the bread is moist, slightly sweet and a little crumbly. Simply: It’s the perfect foundation for some good Irish butter.
How to Make Soda Bread
This recipe comes to us from home baker Gloria Warczak of Cedarburg, Wisconsin who says that she loves this loaf and how easy it is to swap out mix-ins. Here’s what you need to make it:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons cold butter
- 2 large eggs, divided
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup raisins, or other dried fruits like chopped dates, currants or golden raisins
Step 1: Mix the dry ingredients
In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients together so they’re evenly distributed.
Test Kitchen Tip: We add baking powder along with baking soda to our soda bread to get an extra rise and an even lighter texture. It’s not exactly classic…but we won’t tell anyone.
Step 2: Cut in the butter
Next, cut cold butter into the dry ingredients. Make sure the butter is ice cold! Using a pastry blender, a fork or even your fingers, work the butter into the dry mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.
If the butter is melting as you handle it, take a break. Pop the whole bowl into the freezer and let it rest for 15 minutes before finishing this step.
Step 3: Add the wet ingredients
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Then pour it into your flour mixture. Stir until the ingredients are just combined. Though it’s a wee bit messy, I like to use my hands to do this. It helps me realize when the dough has just started to become moist.
Then, if desired, gently fold in the dried fruit. There shouldn’t be any dough clinging to the sides of the bowl.
Test Kitchen Tip: It’s important not to overwork your dough. If you mix it too much, the bread could become tough and dense. The same goes for all kinds of baked goods like cookies and biscuits.
Step 4: Gently knead
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently knead by carefully folding the dough six to eight times. It should start to feel soft and gently pliable. Shape it into a round loaf by pushing your hands underneath the lump of dough. Don’t worry if it appears a little crackly on top. It’s supposed to look rustic!
Test Kitchen Tip: Only knead long enough to bring the dough together. You’re shaping the loaf only, not trying to develop gluten, as in traditional bread. In soda bread, kneading too much will make the bread less tender.
Step 5: Make cuts and add some shine
Transfer your dough to a greased baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow X on the top of the loaf. To give the bread a little shine, add an egg wash. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and then gently brush it over the loaf.
Step 6: Bake and enjoy
Bake the bread at 375ºF for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove your loaf from the pan and let it cool slightly on a wire rack. You can tell it’s finished by giving it a gentle tap on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, then it’s cooked through.
Serve with butter and jam—or as I first learned to love it, with a cup of hearty soup. Leftovers are excellent toasted and topped with honey.