Bake

Irish Soda Bread With Raisins

by:
March 17, 2021
11 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
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 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)
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) 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)
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
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56 Reviews

Hilary February 23, 2021
Just had to return to write yet another review praising this treasured recipe, which has become a family tradition this time of year. This year, having started to follow a gluten avoidance lifestyle due to some digestive issues, I was thrilled to discover that this stalwart recipe works beautifully with cup4cup gluten free flour, with just a tiny bit more buttermilk added. I am enjoying it again on day three (unusual for gluten free baked goods, which tend to be hard and dry after a day or so in my experience) sliced and toasted with Irish butter, my favorite! Also, made it with golden raisins this time soaked in a wee dram of Jamesons which is lovely! Thank you again Pegeen, for this wonderful recipe!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen February 26, 2021
Hilary, what a lovely comment. Thank you so much - it warms my heart. It's so wonderful to hear that this recipe has become a tradition for others too. My mother, who has Alzheimer's, escaped Covid but has declined very seriously this year, making this year's St. Patrick's Day a bittersweet one for us. She is the last of her generation. I am so grateful to have learned so much about cooking at the apron strings of my mother and her mother Peggy. And I feel so grateful to have grown up in a tribe that values traditions. A favorite saying about Irish families was by Joe P. Kennedy, John Kennedy's scrappy father. He said it's a very good thing to have many cousins, because you'll never have too far to run. ;-)

Thank you also for sharing your positive experience with gluten-free flour. I'm sure it's a question many will have these days. Good to know it works!

Hilary, thank you again for your kind thoughts. I wish you and your tribe a very Happy St. Patrick's Day!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen October 16, 2020
Hoping everyone is coping! This has turned out to be a very easy, no-knead "pantry" bread over the past few months. A few times I've been out of buttermilk but an easy substitute is 2 TBSP lemon juice topped off with enough milk to make one cup of liquid. Let it sit on the counter for an hour to curdle.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen January 17, 2021
You can also use plain white vinegar instead of lemon juice to make your own buttermilk.
 
Maurine H. March 17, 2020
My husband and I made this this morning for St. Patrick's Day. It's wonderful!
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 18, 2020
So glad you enjoyed it! I had to make SIX to cover family and friends during this challenging time. (Oy vey, my feet hurt.) And a belated Happy St. Patrick's Day to one and all.
 
Tattiehoker March 6, 2020
IrishcSoda Bread is meant to be simple. The simpler is it the better it tastes. Yours is very Americanized. Simple Irish bread is delicious. Less is more
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 18, 2020
Can you share a link to a recipe with us that you would recommend? Thanks!
 
Suzy Q. January 3, 2021
I agree with Pegeen. Would you please share your recipe with us?
Thank you so much!
 
EdyS March 13, 2021
VERY Traditional Irish Soda Bread has to be eaten as soon as it cools. It isn’t better than yours, and it has zero shelf life. But with only 4 ingredients, it sure is fast and easy!
https://letsdishrecipes.com/traditional-irish-soda-bread/
 
bettye198 January 20, 2020
This is exactly the recipe my mother taught me and I use it faithfully. I believe unless the irish soda bread is right out of the oven, if it sits for days it does get hard and not edible. I then toast it and voila, you have it resurrected!
 
MissMaria March 17, 2019
Fantastic recipe and very easy to execute! I made this tonight, and it was also my first attempt of making a bread if any kind. I soaked the currants in a little brown sugar bourbon and cooked it in a cast iron skillet. It was absolutely divine! I froze half of the loaf for a later date.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 20, 2019
So glad you liked it. I'll have to try the bourbon-soaked raisins!
 
[email protected] March 16, 2019
This is my go to recipe for soda bread. It's great with coffee.
 
Author Comment
Pegeen March 20, 2019
I'm so glad you find it holds up... I do too. It's a tried-and-true recipe. Cheers!
 
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. :-)

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. :-)

Eamon Kelly, professional Irish storyteller, "The Tea Man"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzP4FM3WqwY

Sláinte, everyone (the Gaelic toast for “To your health”)

 
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!
I know it says no additional butter needed...but I can't resist a little smear of Irish butter...
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!
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.