St. Patrick's Day

Irish-Inspired Soda Bread Gets a Mediterranean Touch (& Whole Grains)

March 15, 2018
A beautiful rise awaits. Photo by James Ransom

This loaf is quick, quick, quick—for all the days you crave a good-grain bread without all the work. While a slow sourdough boule or baguette is the stuff of our dreams, life sometimes doesn’t cooperate. Save the day by making an Irish-inspired soda bread. It’s on the table in just an hour or so. And with 100% whole grain flours and sesame seeds baked in, it is packed with nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals. A win-win.

This recipe makes a richly textured bread with a comforting crumb yet not overly crusty. I use some whole wheat flour for structure, combined with lower-gluten spelt flour which adds a mild natural sweetness. Flecked with bits of golden corn, this rustic loaf sits somewhere between traditional austere Irish soda breads with no fat at all, and American soda breads that are often cake-like and enriched with butter.

A dramatic flouring adds a rustic touch. Photo by James Ransom

Beware a secret ingredient, I’m half Greek: olive oil. The oil gives you a softer crumb, despite the use of all the good-grain flour. But don’t use your fancy aromatic salad oil here, just a solid extra-virgin oil. (I like Trader Joe’s 100% Greek Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil).

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Before you start, be sure your whole grain flours are fresh. If you detect the slightest off-scent, go buy a fresh bag. And if you feel the need to disguise all this goodness from suspicious guests, use “white whole wheat” flour instead of regular whole wheat—same nutritional benefits but naturally sweet and lighter in color.

Just my cup of tea. Photo by James Ransom

Last but not least, when you bake 100% whole grain loaves like this one, a digital scale is a must. It will make your baking so much easier. Just put a bowl on your scale, tare, and add your flours one by one—hello, clean counters and calm nerves! And no more dreadful heavy whole-grain loaves.

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Top Comment:
“Also, Ikeep my whole wheat flour in the freezer. When baking, I take out the amount I need and let it warm up to room temperature before combining it with other ingredients. Just a few hints to make the baking successful. King Arthur flour has a fantastic mail order service. Their flours are always very fresh!!!”
— susan F.

Serve this easy loaf for breakfast, brunch or dinner. The nutty whole-grain slices beg for a spread of rich creamy Irish butter. Or drizzle on some olive oil, seriously (!), and bring out a platter of good cheese, salumi, pickles, radishes, and olives, and call it a meal!

Helpful Tips

No Buttermilk? No Problem: I often have no buttermilk on hand when I want to bake a quick bread like this one. As long as you have whole or low-fat milk on hand, you can make it on the spot: Add 20 g (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) white vinegar to a liquid cup measure and top with milk until the total weight is 300 g (1 1/4 cup). It will start to curdle within minutes—voila, your buttermilk is ready to bake with.

Measuring Flour Without a Scale: If you don’t have a scale, fluff the flour in the container first, then lightly it spoon into the measuring cup until it is overflowing. Don’t bang the cup on the counter! Sweep across the top to level with a thin-bladed knife.

How do you like your Irish (and Irish-inspired) soda bread? Let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Anna
  • 70&holding
  • susan f
    susan f
  • Naomi Hope Annandale
    Naomi Hope Annandale
  • FS
Maria Speck is the author of Simply Ancient Grains and Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (both by Ten Speed Press). Her work has received multiple awards, including a Julia Child and an M.F.K. Fisher cookbook award. Raised in Germany and Greece, Maria is a veteran journalist and food writer with a lifelong passion for whole grains.


Anna March 21, 2018
I was so excited about this! My loaf was dry, dense, and floury, however, and in the end, I tossed it. Do you have any suggestions for a better loaf if I tried this again? I used the measuring cup method described since I don’t have a scale and used quality ingredients (including thick, local buttermilk). Other soda bread recipes I’ve seen ask for the same amount of liquid for less flour—does this have enough liquid? Let me know what you think! Thanks in advance!
Anna March 21, 2018
(I’m thinking this is just the excuse I need to order a kitchen scale... :))
MariaSpeck March 21, 2018
Hi Anna, thank you for dropping a note -- and I'm sorry your results were disappointing. Different people, even with the same instructions, will add significantly different amounts of flour to a cup. Especially with whole grain flours, a scale can make all the difference as baked goods can become heavy and dense—exactly the thing you never want to happen. On very humid and dry days, cup measures can let you down as well. Affordable digital scales with a tare function have become widely available as of late. I very much hope you give this bread another try! Needless to say, I loved your second note. Yeah to scales for bakers! Happy baking!
70&holding March 18, 2018
Growing up I was never exposed to Irish soda bread, only Italian or sourdough.
As I see more recipes, I became curious. So, I have recently sampled a few breads, finding the bread of choice to be the, fruitless brown. One of the bakery browns was excellent. I bought two loaves. I did find one with fruit at a specialty grocer that was, okay, just too sweet. Next year I will try a homemade . Thank You to all those who contributed to the, article and comments. They are most inspiring!raf
MariaSpeck March 19, 2018
I'm happy to hear you had some excellent Irish soda breads and you feel inspired. No need to wait until next year to try making one yourself. They are so easy and great for late breakfast or brunch any time of the year, or with a bowl of soup for a quick dinner. Happy baking!
susan F. March 16, 2018
i have taken to buying dr. oetker baking soda. It comes in envelopes at the large superstore where I do most of my shopping. It does not have aluminum. I find it produces excellent soda bread. Also, Ikeep my whole wheat flour in the freezer. When baking, I take out the amount I need and let it warm up to room temperature before combining it with other ingredients. Just a few hints to make the baking successful. King Arthur flour has a fantastic mail order service. Their flours are always very fresh!!!
MariaSpeck March 17, 2018
Hi Susan, thank you for sharing your thoughtful tips. I personally love fresh milling at home. Please read more below — what Karen said and, also more in my response to FS. Most important, do get in touch with any questions. Happy whole grain baking!
Naomi H. March 16, 2018
I hate having to buy flours that I am unlikely to use again. Can I skip the spelt and just use all whole-wheat?
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
Hi Naomi, please go to comments at the recipe (link above) for lots of ideas and substitutions. In a nutshell, yes! Keep me in the loop if you try it. Enjoy!
FS March 16, 2018
TBH I've never had an Irish soda bread I liked. No matter which recipe the bread is always dry and unpleasantly bitter to me, so I've given up on the quick bread. It may be the whole wheat flour or the leavening, but ISB just doesn't do it for me.
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
Oh, no — Irish Soda Bread shouldn't be so unpleasant, FS! But I can relate to your experience. Here are a few reasons: Too much leavening can lead to metallic notes indeed. In addition, your whole wheat flour might not have been fresh which can add bitter, rancid notes. Have you tried using "white" whole wheat flour? It has the same nutritional benefits but is naturally sweeter which many people find more appealing. Please don't give up!
FS March 16, 2018
Thanks for the encouragement, MariaSpeck! You're absolutely right, it is the metallic note from the leavening and nasty rancid notes from less than petal fresh WW flour. I used to use white WW flour, but the stuff in the grocery store never tastes fresh, rather old and - you know.
I'll stick with yeasted bread for now, there's a no-knead dough doing its slow rise in my kitchen as I write! :)
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
Thank you for your thoughtful note, FS. I understand. It may sound far of but if you care about good flours you may consider fresh milling in your own kitchen. It’s a game changer in so many ways. I just posted a bit about it on my Instagram. I also wrote a blogpost on my own blog about it. Search for “A Fresh Take on Oats”. Happy baking!
Karen L. March 16, 2018
Here in Massachusetts, we can buy fresh, locally grown whole grains to mill— and wow does that make a difference. Fresh smells great and is much softer. I don’t use white flour at all anymore. Pioneer Valley Grain CSA also has pick ups in Connecticut.
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
I couldn’t agree more, Karen. Thank you for sharing this! In fact I regularly post about my grain share and fresh milling on my Instagram. I’m a huge fan of them!!