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
Test Kitchen Notes
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
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) unsalted butter, COLD, cut into smaller chunks, plus a few extra tablespoons for greasing baking dish
dark seedless raisins (can substitute seedless golden raisins or dried cranberries)
In This Recipe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.