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. With the soup came a thick slice of soda bread.
I grew up on Wonder bread, so I was fascinated by this rustic loaf. One bite and I was sold. I immediately set out to learn about soda bread-and to master making it myself.
Quick Facts about Irish Soda Bread
#1: Irish soda bread is easy to recognize.
Its crust is marked with a cross-shaped slice, which is both decorative and functional, allowing the bread to rise to the proper shape. The crumb (the texture inside the loaf) is moist and a little crumbly, the taste faintly sweet. While traditional soda breads don’t include fruit, that rule has been broken many times over. More often than not raisins or currants freckle the bread. Caraway seeds are traditional, too, with or without the fruit.
#2: It doesn’t use any yeast.
Soda bread is a quick bread, which means it doesn’t use yeast to help it rise. (Find recipes for more of our favorite quick breads here.) Instead, the recipe calls for baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)-thus the name soda bread. The baking soda reacts with buttermilk to quickly leaven the bread, yielding a nice fluffy loaf.
#3: There’s a bit of magic involved.
If you see extra slits on the top of the loaf apart from the typical cross, it’s because the baker was trying to “pinch the fairies out.” Irish folklore states that if you don’t do this, your bread will be cursed by fairies hiding inside. Although I don’t believe in magical creatures, I find it’s best not to test my luck.
#4: It’s extremely simple to make.
Soda bread calls for a handful of ingredients and hardly any elbow grease. From start to finish, the bread takes less than an hour to make-which means it’s easy to make after work to serve with a bowl of steamy soup or stew. Looking for more easy bread recipes? We’ve got 33 non-scary breads anyone can bake.
How to Make Irish Soda Bread
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
Kick things off by preheating the oven to 375°. Then, in a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients together so that 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 even lighter texture. It’s not exactly classic…but we won’t tell anyone.
Step 2: Cut in the butter
“Cutting in the butter” simply means to roughly combine butter into the flour mixture. Divide your butter into small cubes and sprinkle it over the mix. Using a pastry blender, the back of a fork or even your fingers, work the butter into the ingredients. Stop when the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Test Kitchen Tip: Be sure to use butter that’s cold and hard, not softened. This’ll ensure your bread stays light once baked.
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.
Step 4: Gently knead
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently knead by carefully folding the dough 6-8 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 breads. 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 egg wash by beating the remaining egg in a small bowl. Then gently brush over the loaf.
Go ahead and add extra slashes inside the four quadrants of the cross to “pinch the fairies out.” (This is a fun task for kids to help with.)
Step 6: Bake and enjoy
Bake the bread 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 with honey.