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 over caraway was just a regional preference or family tradition.
The best tips I can offer are to use fresh ingredients, especially the baking powder and baking soda, look for juicy raisins without preservatives where possible, and bake in a 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. —Pegeen
Test Kitchen Notes
Once cooked, the soda bread needs patience; it needs to cool not only in the pan but out because if you cut the bread too soon, it will crumble. Your patience, however, will be rewarded when you cut your first slice and it remains intact just waiting for you to cover it in a little (Irish) butter or a fresh fruit jam and, don't forget the cup of tea.
If you can't eat the loaf right away, wrap it carefully in foil or pop it into an airtight container as it tends to dry out quickly. The bread also freezes if well-wrapped and kept in the freezer for no longer than a month or two. Let the loaf defrost slowly before warming slightly in a medium-hot oven for 10 minutes to refresh it. —The Editors
- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 45 minutes
- makes one 10 or 11-inch round loaf (or two smallish 8-inch round loaves)
buttermilk, cold (you may need a little less or more)
large eggs, cold (yes, cold)
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.
iodized salt (table salt)
(3/4 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus a few teaspoons for greasing baking dish
1 1/2 cups
dark seedless raisins (can substitute seedless golden raisins or dried cranberries)
- Preheat oven to 375° F and position rack in center of oven. Generously grease the baking dish with a few teaspoons of butter. Dust the baking dish with flour by scattering a small handful of flour inside the dish, then shake it around so that the bottom and sides are coated. Turn the dish over and tap out any excess flour.
- Pour the 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.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Scatter 6 tablespoons of cold chopped 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.
- Gently stir in the raisins. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour 1 cup of the buttermilk mixture into the well. Stir gently with a 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 nor too dry. You may need more or less than 1 1/2 cups buttermilk. If you need more liquid, plain buttermilk is fine. The dough should look lumpy and be more wet than dry.
- Dust a little flour on your hands, then shape the dough quickly and roughly into a ball, without over-handling it. Transfer the dough ball to the greased and floured baking dish. Use the back of the wooden spoon to spread the dough in as few strokes as possible to edges of dish.
- 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 top of the dough.
- Place the baking dish in oven and bake about 45 minutes, but 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 to an internal temperature of 190° F. Do not over-bake.
- Remove from the 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. The loaf keeps very well for a few days, wrapped tightly in foil or plastic wrap.