When it comes to our favorite Irish recipes, this easy bread is at the top of the roster, and for good reason: It’s deliciously dense yet soft and very easy to make, forgoing any use of tricky yeast or laborious kneading.
Irish soda bread is perfect eaten on its own, slathered in Irish butter and jam. And around March 17, it’s right at home alongside other classic St. Patrick’s Day recipes like corned beef and cabbage and Guinness beef stew.
What is Irish soda bread?
Irish soda bread is a quick bread that’s leavened with baking soda and buttermilk, thanks to a chemical reaction between the two ingredients. I’m fascinated by its history.
For centuries, Irish flour did not contain enough gluten to rise with yeast, so home cooks made bread flat on a griddle. When baking soda arrived in Ireland in the mid-19th century, bakers tried it in their bread dough, inventing the classic Irish recipe we know and love today.
Eventually, more glutinous flour made its way over to Ireland, and bakers used it to make yeasted loaves—what the Irish call “shop bread.” Because of this, the BBC says Irish soda bread went out of style for a time. Lucky for us, it became popular again in the ’60s when some trendy Irish restaurants started featuring it on their menus.
Now, almost every Irish bakery sells its own version of soda bread—with raisins, whole wheat flour, caraway seeds, grains, treacle, nuts and even Guinness.
Irish Soda Bread Ingredients
- All-purpose flour: Since this is more of a quick bread than a sandwich loaf, all-purpose flour is preferred. Bread flour would make Irish soda bread far too tough.
- Brown sugar: A touch of brown sugar subtly sweetens it up.
- Baking soda: It’s called Irish soda bread, after all. Test to make sure your baking soda hasn’t expired before you start measuring.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk reacts with the leavening agents to help the loaf rise.
- Raisins: We add raisins to our Irish soda bread for their small bursts of sweetness.
Step 1: Whisk the dry ingredients
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk together the all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Step 2: Form the dough
Using a dough cutter, your fingertips or two forks, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
In another bowl, whisk together one egg and the buttermilk until well combined. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture, and stir using a rubber spatula until the dough is shaggy but the flour isn’t entirely mixed in. Stir in the raisins.
Editor’s Tip: Be gentle when adding the raisins—stir them in only until there are no flour streaks left in the dough. Over-mixing will make the bread come out tough.
Step 3: Knead sparingly
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it gently, six to eight times only. Delicately shape into a 6-1/2-inch round loaf. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet.
Step 4: Let the fairies out!
In the top of the loaf, use a knife to make a shallow cross, about 1/4-inch deep. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, and brush it over the top of the loaf.
Editor’s Tip: According to Irish lore, you should cut your dough to “let the fairies out” before baking. Otherwise, they’ll jinx your bread!
Step 5: Bake
Bake the Irish soda bread until it’s nicely golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan to a wire rack.
- Add hearty oats: Knead in or garnish the Irish soda bread with instant oats to add an earthy flavor and texture.
- Swap the raisins: Not a fan of raisins? Either omit them completely or swap them with dried cranberries for a sweet and tart note.
- Garnish with seeds: Before baking, sprinkle the top of the loaf with caraway, sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds for added crunch and a rustic look.
How to Store Irish Soda Bread
To store Irish soda bread, allow the loaf to cool completely to room temperature, then place it in an airtight container or wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Irish soda bread can sit at room temperature for up to two days or in the fridge for a week. However, this dense bread is best eaten the day it’s made.
How to Freeze Irish Soda Bread
Allow the loaf to cool completely to room temperature, then wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Store it in the freezer for up to three months.
To thaw, place the Irish soda bread on the counter for about an hour and a half or thaw in the fridge overnight. Reheat in a 250° oven until it’s heated through.
Irish Soda Bread Tips
Are there substitutes for buttermilk?
Yes, you can substitute thinned-out yogurt or kefir for the buttermilk.
You can also make buttermilk using ingredients you have on hand. To substitute each cup of buttermilk, use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice, plus enough milk to measure 1 cup. Stir, then let it stand for five minutes.
Or, use 1-3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1 cup of milk to make buttermilk.
My Irish soda bread looks shaggy. Is that OK?
Yes! Irish soda bread is leavened with baking soda and buttermilk instead of yeast, making it more of a rustic-looking quick bread than a typical yeasted sandwich loaf.
Since there’s no yeast, we highly recommend being scant with kneading. Too much kneading and your Irish soda bread will be way too dense. It’s supposed to be a little denser than regular bread but shouldn’t reach the texture of a brick.