Peggy's Authentic Irish Soda Bread with Raisins

By Pegeen
March 12, 2012
41 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!).
The Editors

Makes: one 10 or 11-inch round loaf (or two smallish 8-inch round loaves)
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups 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 cups dark seedless raisins (can substitute seedless golden raisins or dried cranberries)

Directions

  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.

More Great Recipes:
Bread|Irish|Grains|Bake|St. Patrick's Day|Breakfast|Snack

Reviews (41) Questions (1)

41 Comments

food52fan March 25, 2018
Just baked this wonderful bread today! I added 1 cup zante currants and 1 T caraway seeds since that is reminiscent of the Irish soda bread of my childhood, and baked it in a 9" Wilton cake pan for 35 minutes. The results are lovely and tasty! Next time I think I will use the currants again but omit the caraway. I like caraway very much but it is a bit overpowering. I used Kerry Gold butter and the bread flavor is just delicious! Thank you fir sharing this recipe. I already wrapped two quarter loaves to gift to family!
 
food52fan March 25, 2018
*for* sharing!!
 
food52fan March 26, 2018
Update: next day the caraway taste was quite mild compared to yesterday when the bread was baked. It is a very pleasant flavor now!
 
lydia R. May 4, 2017
If I substitute 2 cups of the AP flour with 2 cups of whole wheat flour, does it make sense to use about 1 cup + 1-2 Tbsp. buttermilk mixture? The dough ended up turning out pretty malleable (so I could still form it into a dough ball) and more wet than dry. I only ask this because I thought whole wheat would end up using all 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk mixture. I was surprised that it did not use all the liquid...? Should I have allowed the liquid to sit and soak into the flour for 10-15 min?
 
Author Comment
Pegeen September 19, 2017
It's been a while since I made it with whole wheat flour, but I don't recall needing to alter the amount of buttermilk. Next time I'll try whole wheat.
 
CBee February 21, 2017
This looks like a delicious recipe! Can't wait to try it. :-)<br /><br />Do you think this could be made in a cast-iron skillet, or would that be considered "too dark"?
 
Anita February 21, 2017
Hey CBee :) I used to make this all the time in a cast-iron skillet and it worked out for me every time! Best of luck. Enjoy this delicious treat! (Also, side note, it's delicious with chocolate chips if you don't have raisins on hand.)
 
CBee February 21, 2017
Thank you, Anita. :-) As for the chocolate chips suggestion — please don't tempt me!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen February 25, 2017
Hi Cbee - like Anita says, a cast iron skillet works fine. Chocolate chips sound delicious! You can also use any dried fruit instead of raisins.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 17, 2015
You really can't slice soda bread while it's hot. :-)<br /><br />Eamon Kelly, professional Irish storyteller, "The Tea Man"<br />https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzP4FM3WqwY<br /><br />Sláinte, everyone (the Gaelic toast for “To your health”)<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 17, 2015
March 17, 2015
 
Hilary March 17, 2015
Also forgot to mention, I used dried currants this year, because that was what I had, and liked the subtle sweetness even better than bigger raisins. Kind of a play on the scone idea...Next year I'll try the Jameson's tip!
 
Hilary March 17, 2015
3rd year making this for our St. Paddy's Day dinner! My daughter's favorite, and this year we made it together! A real treat!<br />I know it says no additional butter needed...but I can't resist a little smear of Irish butter...<br />But, nonetheless, it's delicious!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 17, 2015
How great that it's a tradition with your daughter. (And there's nothing like a schmear of Kerry Gold butter!) I agree with your comment above - currants are good. So are sultanas (golden raisins) or even dried cherries or dried cranberries.
 
Suellen S. March 12, 2015
I just made this recipe for the first time for a meeting of the Friends of my local public library. In fact, it went right from the oven to the meeting, wrapped in a tea towel and cooling off during the ten minute car ride.The soda bread was a big hit, with just a hint of sweetness, nice texture and not a bit dry. I soaked the raisins in about 2 tablespoons of Jameson while I assembled and mixed the ingredients, making the raisins plump, moist and flavorful.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 12, 2015
Suellen, so glad it worked well. Nice tip on soaking the raisins in Jameson's.
 
Lindsey L. March 8, 2015
Can you use a Dutch oven to bake this in?
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 8, 2015
Lindsey, I've never tried it in a dutch oven. My concern would be that the sides of most dutch ovens are too high for this type of bread. The high sides will trap steam on top of the bread, making it take longer to cook the bread, or preventing the top from getting brown. You can use a disposable round metal pan (around 10 inches is fine) if you can't get your hands on anything else. Hope it turns out well for you if you try it!
 
Reed K. March 3, 2016
I usually bake my soda bread in a covered dutch oven. The steam actually helps to form an extra-nice crust on the bread! http://www.sodabread.info/menu/
 
DAVID March 7, 2015
This Irish soda bread is the best! Only thing I did different was I used a kitchen aid to cut the butter.
 
Tracy June 12, 2014
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 ......
 
Anita February 14, 2014
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!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 9, 2014
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.
 
jackie0401 April 6, 2013
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 S. March 18, 2013
I made this for my mother-in-law yesterday, she loved it! Said I was honorary Irish!<br />Except I was out of buttermilk, so substituted 1 cup of greek yogurt, mixed with 1/2cup of 2% milk. Perfect.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 18, 2013
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.
 
ECMotherwell March 17, 2013
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!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 18, 2013
How wonderful - he gets his own parade! So glad it worked well for you.
 
ECMotherwell November 22, 2015
Just circling back around because I've been asked to make this again for Thanksgiving dinner. This soda bread is now an expected/requested/demanded presence at all of my family's gatherings. Thank you again for this extraordinary recipe!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 15, 2013
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")
 
Anna F. March 13, 2013
I made this and it is the real deal, amazing...look no further soda bread. Well written recipe. Bravo!
 
EmilyC March 13, 2013
Congrats! I typically make Darina Allen's version, but I'll happily try yours since it includes butter in the mix! : )
 
healthierkitchen March 13, 2013
congrats! We love soda bread and this one sounds great.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 13, 2013
Thanks, healthierkitchen. I've got a pint of Guinness for celebrating later.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 13, 2013
Wow, how exciting! Thank you, Food52! (I know my Nana Peggy is looking down, smiling.)
 
walkie74 March 13, 2013
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.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 13, 2013
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!
 
Nick R. March 18, 2013
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.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 18, 2013
Nick, thank you for the tips! I hope it's better than a bakery (or my Nana would swat me with her dishtowel).