Bake

Gammy's Irish Soda Bread

February 22, 2022
3.8 Stars
Photo by Caroline Lange
Author Notes

This delicious Irish soda bread recipe can be made for St. Patrick's Day and beyond—it's fun to make and perfect for any time of the day. "Gammy" is what my father and his five siblings called their grandmother. To everyone else, she was Marie Phelan, born near Galway, on the western coast of Ireland, in 1888. She immigrated to the States when she was just sixteen and, like so many Irish immigrant women at that time, found work as a domestic servant in New York City, where she stayed nearly her whole life. She didn’t return to Ireland to visit until she was an adult.

Dad doesn’t recall if Gammy was a cook in the house where she worked, for a family called Rogers. But “I understand Gammy was a very competent cook,” he said, meaning, of course, more than competent: Her recipes are how I know Gammy, beyond whom my sense of my family’s history fades out like an old song. I feel lucky to have the recipe for her (much loved and equally teased) fruitcake, her Christmas rum balls, and her soda bread.

Her soda bread is a round, dense loaf made from an amazingly sticky dough—mostly fruit strapped into flour via buttermilk. Currants and raisins Dalmatian-spot the pale dough, caraway seeds are mandatory, and the bread is even better toasted (and amply buttered) than fresh. The recipe is a simple one, and also “truly an approximation,” as Dad said, texting me a picture of his loaf: Gammy’s recipes are all pretty vague, of the “bake in a slow oven” and “knead until it feels right” variety. —Caroline Lange

  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • makes 1 (9-inch) loaf
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or, as the original recipe calls for, Crisco), plus more for the pan
  • 4 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (or more, if you like)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch cake pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until very fine crumbs form. In another medium bowl, combine the currants, raisins, and caraway seeds with 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture, breaking up any clumps of fruit with your fingers. Stir the fruit mixture into the remaining flour mixture.
  3. Pour the buttermilk into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form. On a work surface (dusted with flour if needed), knead the dough into a ball for about 2 minutes, until smooth and well combined.
  4. Place the dough in the prepared pan. Bake 60 to 70 minutes, until the crust begins to turn pale gold and makes a hollow sound when you tap it.

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Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.

1 Review

Tessa F. March 25, 2016
This would not be called soda bread in Ireland, I've never had this combination or seen anything like it in Ireland, seems to be a real US tradition though. Soda bread takes a really really light hand, should be plains, simple and eaten very quickly. If it has currants it would be currant bread. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/14/dining/14appe.html?_r=0