How to Make Irish Soda Bread
Baking traditions in the Emerald Isle are the stuff of legends, but soda bread remains everyone's favorite.
We'll share favorite recipes and how-to tips so you can enjoy homemade Irish soda bread baked in your very own kitchen.
Irish Soda Bread FAQ
Before we get into the recipes and tips, here's a quick primer on what Irish soda bread is and why it's called soda bread.
What is Irish soda bread?
There are many traditional baked goods in Ireland that have evolved over the centuries. From the earliest times, bread-making was an integral part of daily life in almost every home. Families lived in isolated farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, not ovens, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant turf fires. The aroma and taste of traditional soda bread is unique to Ireland, and it's become the established favorite with tourists and locals alike.
Why is it called soda bread?
Unlike yeast breads, Irish soda bread gets its lift from the bubbles formed when baking soda meets buttermilk. Buttermilk also gives soda bread a beautiful, tender crumb.
5 Favorite Recipes for Irish Soda Bread
Since soda bread is a simple bread to make, many variations exist: whole wheat, with raisins and caraway seeds added in, or simply plain — all equally irresistible served warm from the oven and spread with butter.
Flavored with raisins (or dried currants) and caraway seeds, this popular recipe can be made in a cake pan or a cast iron skillet. Tip: The skillet gives the bread a superior crust. No matter how you bake it, be sure to line the bottom of the greased pan with parchment paper to make lifting the bread out that much easier.
This striped-down version of soda bread has no raisins, caraway seeds, or eggs. Note: You can substitute buttermilk for the milk and vinegar. "Of all the soda bread recipes I've tried, this is by far the best," says Jeff Mowatt. "I made this for my cafe's St. Paddy's Day luncheon, and the reviews were RAVE ! It even brought tears to one older Irish gent who proclaimed it tasted exactly like his childhood. Bank on this recipe!"
"Soda bread dough is flattened into a round circle, and divided into farls (meaning 4 parts). It is then cooked on a dry griddle or pan. Traditionally, this was the quickest way to make soda bread for unexpected guests who drop by for a bit of craic (good fun). It's best eaten fresh with butter and jam but is also delicious fried as part of an Ulster breakfast." — Ita
Oats, whole wheat flour, buttermilk, and molasses go into this rich, dense loaf. You'll have to plan about 12 hours ahead, as it needs time to ferment at room temperature.
VIDEO: Watch our own Chef John show you how to make his version of Irish soda bread. "If made correctly, this is one of the best quick breads (those leavened without yeast) you'll ever have. Subtly sweet, with a light, tender crumb, and not at all dry. You can use quick-cooking oats in place of rolled oats, if desired." — Chef John
Irish Soda Bread Traditions
Even though there is an abundance of readily available, good-quality breads in Irish supermarkets today, quite a few Irish families still bake their own daily from specially treasured recipes passed down through the generations.
- In most parts of Ireland, soda bread is shaped and baked as a round loaf with a cross marked on top. You might be surprised to learn that it isn't a religious symbol at all, nor was it to let the fairies out. In the old days, it was simply a practical method of dividing the baked bread into four quarters.
- In the North of the country, soda bread is cooked on a flat griddle pan and comes in triangular shapes called farls. The name originates from the Gaelic word fardel, meaning "fourth part." The dough is flattened into a round disc and divided into four equal triangular shapes. The bread cooks quickly on a hot dry griddle or frying pan. Each farl is then split in half and eaten warm. Farls are also very popular fried in bacon fat and served as part of the infamous Irish breakfast.