“A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle.” ~ Irish saying
Today we tackle that most basic, humble, and hearty of Irish foods—traditional Irish soda bread.
When I decided to try soda bread, I visited several sites to make sure I got a good, authentic recipe. What I learned along the way was that soda bread is inherently simple, literally just flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk or sour milk. If it has eggs, raisins, butter, sugar, shortening, or baking powder, it may be delicious but it isn’t Irish soda bread.
Soda bread didn’t actually originate in Ireland. But just as pizza now is thoroughly owned by the Italians, soda bread is as Irish as Guinness and colcannon. It became popular in the early and mid-1800s for a couple reasons, largely boiling down to the poverty conditions that existed and what the average person could most easily put on the table. Yeast was expensive, unpredictable, and time-consuming, but baking soda (or the various forms they used back then) could be procured easily (as could the sour milk to react with it) and produced fairly consistent results.
So the recipe I tried was very simple, and thus very easy. The benefit of soda bread is that there’s no rising time, so it pays off immediately. Stir together your ingredients, bake, and you’re eating hot, fresh bread within the hour. I didn’t eat it right away, but brought it into work the next morning and it made a great breakfast—topped with homemade jam, of course!
This deliciousness was my first taste of soda bread when we went to Ireland last year, at a great little B&B in Kenmare, County Kerry. Our hostess made it that morning, and it was great—chewy, crunchy, with kind of a nuttiness from the whole wheat flour, slathered with fresh butter and jam.
Start by combining all the dry ingredients. I used one cup of whole wheat flour and three cups of regular flour. I love whole wheat flour in pretty much everything, but it can make breads very heavy so I didn’t want to overdo it on my first time trying the recipe.
Add in the buttermilk. Start with what the recipe calls for, though you may need to add more.
Stir together the wet and dry ingredients, just stirring enough to get the dough to stick together. I had to add more buttermilk (not sure exactly how much, but maybe another 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup?) to get the dough to stick. But you don’t want it wet, so add just a little bit at a time.
This is what my dough looked like. It had a texture similar to biscuit or scone dough.
Shape into the semblance of something round—as you can see, mine is only doing a good imitation of being round. Slice an “x” into the top, to let out any steam necessary. You’ll want to bake on a cast iron griddle or in a cast iron dutch oven if possible. Otherwise make sure you either place parchment paper down on your baking sheet or heavily grease the pan to keep it from sticking.
Bake for about 45 minutes at 425. I think mine baked a little less than 45 minutes, so keep a close eye on it.
Bread should be crunchy and golden brown on the outside. It will be soft and chewy inside.
Eat it while it’s hot, if you can. I didn’t, and it was still good the next morning, but it’s best hot and fresh.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup of whole wheat, 3 cups of regular)
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk (I needed more)
- Pre-heat oven to 425.
- Combine dry ingredients. Gradually stir in 1 cup of buttermilk, beating or stirring constantly, until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball. If it’s still too crumbly, continue to add up to 1/2 cup more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it holds together (I actually ended up using closer to 1 3/4 or 2 cups).
- Lightly flour a board or your counter, turn the dough out onto it, and pat into an 8-inch flattened round loaf. Place the loaf on a cast iron griddle or dutch oven (if possible) or greased baking sheet and slash a 1/2-inch deep “x” into the top of the dough with a sharp knife (serrated works best for me).
- Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden (wasn’t quite that long for me). Serve hot.
Original recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/traditional-irish-soda-bread-160379