Traditionally, soda bread includes flour, baking soda, and salt, whisked together and bound with buttermilk. This sticky dough gets formed into a ball—a boule, if you will—then slashed with an ‘X’ and baked. In theory, this should yield a crusty-edged, fluffy-centered bread, ready to be slathered with butter, but—but, but!—not dependent on it.
That’s what always snagged me. I love the idea of soda bread, but most recipes I crossed paths with produced a dry, crumbly loaf, like an oversized scone that lost its butter, then lost its way. In this sense, the solution is easy: just add butter. And some recipes do. For St. Patrick’s Day this year, we published a soda bread that calls in another fat: olive oil. That, plus three different whole grains: wheat, spelt, and cornmeal.
It was this same graininess that caught my eye when reading Ruby Tandoh’s most recent book, Eat Up! In it, she shares a recipe for Oaty Brown Sugar Soda Bread: “This easy bread takes things that are abysmally dull,” she writes, “and gives you the chance to magic up something magnificent from them.” And by things that are abysmally dull, she means: whole-wheat flour and rolled oats.
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And whole-milk Greek yogurt. That caught my eye, too. This is another way of getting more fat and richness (read: more tenderness and moisture) into the soda bread, without having to cut in butter. Tandoh dilutes this thick, strained yogurt with water, to fully hydrate the flour and oats. More or less, this sums up the requirements for liquid in a soda bread: cultured (that is, acidic enough to activate the baking soda) and pourable (so, wet enough to yield a sticky dough).
Which whittles down our options pretty well: buttermilk, which is usually low-fat; whole-milk buttermilk, which is harder to find; whole-milk yogurt, maybe thinned with water or milk; whole-milk Greek yogurt, definitely thinned with water or milk; or, my new favorite (I know, they say you shouldn’t pick favorites, but I do!), whole-milk kefir.
I swapped that in. You could swap in whole-milk yogurt or whole-milk buttermilk. Just nothing low-fat! Your soda bread wants needs the fat. Give the soda bread what it needs. I also doubled the ingredient quantities, yielding a slightly larger loaf. And I baked it in a Dutch oven—versus the more common free-form, uncovered approach on a sheet tray—so the bread can generate some steam, get comfortable, make itself at home, a game-changing technique I first learned about from Stella Parks at Serious Eats.
Tandoh recommends serving this with salted butter and jam, specially black currant—“the stuff dreams are made of.” Also good: cream cheese and smoked fish. Also: plain! Which is the ultimate compliment, right?
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.
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