What to CookBreadNot RecipesSt. Patrick's Day

How to Make Any Type of Irish Soda Bread from Classic to Crazy

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My grandma says we’re mostly Irish when, in fact, we’re mostly German. She has a proclivity for Irish things: Namely her beloved Irish Wolfhound Eddie and her insistence about being addressed by her maiden name Conway (my sister named her dog Conway after my grandma), and Irish soda bread.

Tucked away amongst the recipes for mac and cheese, macaroni salad, and super vinegary vinaigrette in the family cookbook my grandma assembled is one for Irish soda bread. The quick bread is made from some sort of combination of baking soda, flour, salt, and buttermilk. It’s leavened not with yeast (hence, quick bread), but from the chemical reaction between the baking soda and acidic buttermilk—producing a loaf that’s spongy more than fluffy, dense, and with a sweet, somewhat tangy flavor.

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Photo by James Ransom

My favorite way to eat Irish soda bread is slathered with salted butter and perhaps some jam. Which, is perfect since it’s quick enough to be made for breakfast and easy enough you could make it even in a sleepy state.

Here’s how to make Irish soda bread without a recipe:

Photo by James Ransom

The standard ingredients:

You’ll want about:

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  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups flour, depending on the absorbency of your flour (I like a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose). You can substitute 1/2 cup of rolled oats for an equal portion of the flour. Feel free to try alternative flours here, too, like spelt or buckwheat—substituting a portion of the flour for the alternative flour.
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 4 tablespoon butter (optional—depending on if you want a little richer loaf, but I most often leave it out)
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Whisk together the dry ingredients. If using the butter, add that in like you would for biscuits, rubbing it into the flour. If not, proceed to prepping the mix-ins.

Photo by James Ransom

The mix-ins:

Oh, the options! Here are some to try, from classic to crazy:

  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds + 1 cup currants or raisins
  • 1 cup currants + 1 cup raisins (aka dried fruit crazy!)
  • Chopped dark chocolate + toasted coconut
  • Chopped dried figs + chopped toasted pistachios
  • Chopped toasted walnuts + dried cherries + rosemary
  • Cacao nibs
  • Chopped sundried tomatoes + crumbled feta
  • Cubed cheddar cheese + grated apple
  • Toasted pine nuts + black pepper

Put your add-ins of choice into a separate bowl and toss with a tablespoon of the dry mix to break up any clumps of ingredients. Then, add the mix-ins to the dried mix and combine.

Photo by James Ransom

Pour in your buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon (it’ll be sticky) until a dough forms. If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour. If it seems too dry, add a little more buttermilk. (Feel the dough, be the dough.) Then, transfer to a flour-dusted surface and knead for about 2 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a baking sheet that’s been lightly dusted with flour. Pat it into a 7-inch round and, using a sharp knife, make about an inch-deep “X” on top of the loaf.

Photo by James Ransom

Bake (and eat!):

Bake at 425° F for 30 to 45 minutes, until the loaf is browned and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap on it. Cool for a bit for eating—if possible. I can never do this though, preferring it warm, with lots of salted butter smeared on top.

Tell us: What will you mix into your loaf of Irish soda bread?