I visited Ireland a few years ago and I remember a bread baker telling me this as we toured his shop. And while you can find a thousand recipes for Traditional Irish Soda Bread – the American ones really like to add raisins – if it varies from these 4 basic ingredients, it’s not the real thing. And you wouldn’t want the fae gettin’ all up in your business about that, now would ye?
“Flour, salt, baking soda, buttermilk – anything else is tea cake.”
The ingredients are simple, and so is the process, but it may not be intuitive. There are some techniques to making soda bread that differ quite a bit from regular white bread. No yeast, for one thing! The rising takes place with bubbles formed by baking soda reacting with buttermilk. Buttermilk is slightly acidic, so adding baking soda to it causes a bubbling reaction in the wet dough. Baking in a hot oven causes the dough to set quickly, locking in those bubbles. And cutting a cross on the top helps the heat penetrate further into the loaf so that the middle doesn’t come out raw. (Be generous with that slicing, it’s not just decorative!)
Soda bread is the perfect accompaniment to my Irish Stew recipe. Try this recipe and see if you don’t notice a big difference!
Authentic Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups Flour I recommend pastry flour rather than all-purpose. Traditional Irish wheat is soft, and pastry flour will mimic this better.
- 1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
- 1 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 to 1 3/4 cups Buttermilk or sour milk. The liquid required will be determined by the flour choice. If you use whole wheat you’ll need more liquid than the 1 cup.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet, or brush the sheet with melted butter or spray with non-stick spray.
- Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gradually stir in 1 cup buttermilk, mixing gently with your fingers until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a ball. If dough crumbles, add more liquid 1 tbsp at a time, just until it holds together. Avoid kneading the bread! The less you handle it, the better!
- Place on a lightly floured board and pat into an 8-inch flattened round loaf. It will look a bit rough. It’s supposed to.
- Place the loaf on baking sheet and slash a 1/2-inch deep “X” into the top of the dough with a sharp knife.
- Bake at 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes, or until the top is golden.