Peggy's Authentic Irish Soda Bread with Raisins

By • March 12, 2012 • 22 Comments



Author Notes: This bread is incredibly easy and delicious. It has a cakey texture that makes it great with tea or coffee. No toasting, butter or jam needed. Resist the temptation to slice it when it's still warm. It will crumble under your hands, so let it cool completely.

The recipe has gone unchanged for decades. My grandmother Peggy brought it to the USA when she emigrated from Ireland, adapting the recipe from the brown flour used at home to the white flour used here. Baked plain without raisins, it was a household staple year-round. Probably because raisins were costly during Peggy’s childhood in Ireland, she said they were reserved for "special occasions" (the code words for funerals). But in America, she made this with raisins for her grandchildren, bless her, every week.

Soda bread may have raisins or caraway seed but traditionally not both together. The preference for raisins vs caraway was just a regional preference or family tradition. The best tip I can offer is to use fresh ingredients, especially the baking powder and baking soda.
Pegeen

Food52 Review: WHO: Pegeen is an East Coast-er whose most treasured kitchen possession is time spent with her grandmothers.
WHAT: A raisin-studded soda bread for St. Patrick's Day -- or any day.
HOW: Carefully stir all of your ingredients together, pour into a cake pan, and bake. Devour.
WHY WE LOVE IT: By working the dough as little as possible, you get a soda bread that is moist, cake-y, and tender. The hint of sweetness leaves jam unnecessary, making this perfect for a spring picnic. As Pegeen says, resist the temptation to dig into this while warm; it will crumble in your fingers (but the crumbs will be delicious!).
A&M

Makes one 10 or 11-inch round loaf (or two smallish 8-inch round loaves)

  • 1-1/2 cup buttermilk, cold (you may need a little less or more)
  • 2 large eggs, cold (yes, cold)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups all purpose, unbleached white flour, plus another 1/4 cup for dusting. Any all purpose, unbleached flour is fine but King Arthur's all purpose unbleached flour (not cake flour) seems to work well.
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon iodized salt (table salt)
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, COLD, cut into smaller chunks, plus a few extra tablespoons for greasing baking dish
  • 1-1/2 cup dark seedless raisins (can substitute seedless golden raisins or dried cranberries)
  1. Equipment: one 10- or 11-inch round, ceramic or glass baking dish. A round, straight-sided dish is best (not a pie dish with slanted sides). You could substitute a metal cake pan but not a very dark metal non-stick pan, because the top will likely burn before the interior of the loaf is cooked.
  2. Position oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 375 F. Use the “extra” butter to generously grease the baking dish. Dust the baking dish with flour: scatter a small handful of flour inside the dish and shake it around so that bottom and sides are coated. Turn dish over and tap out any excess flour.
  3. Pour buttermilk into a medium bowl or measuring cup. Break eggs into buttermilk and whisk with a fork to just combine. Add baking soda and whisk to just combine. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Scatter 6 tablespoons of COLD butter over the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or, if you don’t have one, use two table knives in a criss-cross motion from edge-to-edge of the bowl to cut in the butter. The butter should be visible in small bits throughout the flour, not completely absorbed.
  5. Gently stir in raisins. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour 1 cup of the buttermilk mixture into the well. Stir gently with wooden spoon (do not use your hands) until flour is moistened. Use a spatula to gently fold any dry flour from the sides and bottom into the wetter dough. (Fold gently, don’t whip the dough or over-stir.) Add more of the buttermilk mixture as needed, in small amounts, to create a dough that is neither too wet or too dry. You may need more or less than the 1-1/2 cups buttermilk called for. If you need more liquid, plain buttermilk is fine. The dough should look lumpy and be more wet than dry.
  6. Dust a little flour on your hands, then shape dough quickly and roughly into a ball, without over-handling it. Transfer dough ball to the greased and floured baking dish. Use the back of the wooden spoon to spread dough in as few strokes as possible to edges of dish.
  7. Use the handle end of the wooden spoon or your index finger to make a shallow cross (1/4 inch deep) on top of the dough, top to bottom and side to side. This is to encourage the bread to rise in quarters for easier slicing. Very lightly scatter a tiny bit of flour over the dough.
  8. Place baking dish in oven. Baking time will be about 45 minutes. Check after 40 minutes: bread should be golden brown and look set. Test by inserting a knife in the center of the bread. If there is wet dough on the knife, bake for up to 10-15 minutes more. Do not over-bake.
  9. Remove from oven and let bread cool in baking dish about 10 minutes. Remove from baking dish and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. (It will crumble if you try to slice when still warm.) Keeps very well for a few days, wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap.
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Comments (22) Questions (1)

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about 1 month ago Tracy

Irish soda bread is made without eggs and the raising agent used is bicarbonate of soda or bread soda, a mixture of brown unmilled course flour and white flour, as buttermilk is used no extra butter is required, there is no sugar in soda bread unless ones wants a white sweet soda for tea. I make this bread most days for my children and I am Irish ......

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5 months ago Annie

This is a great recipe! Fool proof! I have made it now on several occasions and it is always a home run! Tip for keeping the butter COLD as the recipe calls for - I cut it into tiny pieces FIRST (before I do anything else in the recipe) put the tiny pieces into a tupperware and pop it into the fridge. Thanks for the delicious recipe!

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5 months ago Pegeen

On behalf of my Nana Peggy - thanks, Annie! Like your tip for keeping the butter cold. You could also pop the cut-up buter in the freezer for a few minutes to keep them cold, as well as the fridge. "Slainte!" as they say in Ireland.

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over 1 year ago jackie0401

Made this for St. Patrick's Day & my husband has asked for it every day since!! Delicious. I had tried some Irish Soda Bread Rolls but was very disappointed. This recipe rocks.

Alexia

over 1 year ago alexia schmidt

I made this for my mother-in-law yesterday, she loved it! Said I was honorary Irish!
Except I was out of buttermilk, so substituted 1 cup of greek yogurt, mixed with 1/2cup of 2% milk. Perfect.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Yay! You get the honorary shamrock sticker on your cheek. Thanks for mentioning your substitutions -- good to know yogurt works. I've used this successfully as a substitute for buttermilk, too. For each cup of buttermilk that you need, put 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice in a measuring cup, then add milk to the 1-cup measure. Stir and let stand for a few minutes so it curdles.

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over 1 year ago ECMotherwell

I made this for my Irish Catholic father-in-law's birthday today (yup, he's a St. Patrick's Day baby) and the whole family LOVED it. Thank you for a wonderful, simple recipe!

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

How wonderful - he gets his own parade! So glad it worked well for you.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

People have asked about adding caraway seed. As mentioned above, raisins and caraway aren't traditionally used together - it's one or the other. But if you'd like to use both, I'd reduce the raisins to 1 cup or 2/3 cup, and add 1 to 1-1/2 Tablespoons caraway seed. Slainte! (Gaelic for "to your health")

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over 1 year ago Anna Gass

Anna is a Test Kitchen Assistant and Recipe Tester for Food52

I made this and it is the real deal, amazing...look no further soda bread. Well written recipe. Bravo!

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations, what a beautiful loaf. I must try this!

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Thank you, everyone! Bon appetit!

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over 1 year ago EmilyC

Congrats! I typically make Darina Allen's version, but I'll happily try yours since it includes butter in the mix! : )

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over 1 year ago healthierkitchen

congrats! We love soda bread and this one sounds great.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Thanks, healthierkitchen. I've got a pint of Guinness for celebrating later.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Wow, how exciting! Thank you, Food52! (I know my Nana Peggy is looking down, smiling.)

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over 1 year ago walkie74

the last time I tried to make soda bread, it was a disaster--overcooked, dried out and terrible. I'm going to try this one; I bet it'll be ten times better.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

walkie74, You're right. It's so easy to over-bake any bread or cake. When you test done-ness by sticking a knife in the center, If there's a smidgen of wet dough on the knife, that's fine. Because while the bread sits cooling, the dough will continue to cook & set (kind of like meat on a grill, when you take it off and let it "rest.") But if the batter on the knife is wet and goopy, the bread needs more time in the oven. If you try it, I hope it turns out well for you!

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over 1 year ago Nick R

Hi Walkie74, Two things. First, remember this is a very, very sticky dough. Then when cooking try an instant read thermometer. I cooked the center of this loaf to about 165 (I took 2 measurements one at 35 minutes and another 6 minutes later) and it came out perfectly. By the way, Peggy it's delicious. Better than most bakeries.

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Nick, thank you for the tips! I hope it's better than a bakery (or my Nana would swat me with her dishtowel).

Me

over 1 year ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Congrats!! I totally plan to make this!

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over 1 year ago Pegeen

Thank you, WimpyVeg! I hope you enjoy it. It's a great comfort memory of my childhood. I just realized I should have mentioned an alternate method using caraway seed. Except I dislike it. I'm guessing if you're not using any raisins, 1/2 to 1 tablespoon depending on your tolerance.