Serves a Crowd

Irish Soda Bread with Ancient Grains

March  9, 2018
7 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

This recipe makes a richly textured bread with a comforting crumb yet not overly crusty. I use some whole wheat flour for structure, combined with lower-gluten spelt flour which adds a mild natural sweetness. Flecked with bits of golden corn, this rustic loaf sits somewhere between traditional austere Irish soda breads with no fat at all, and American soda breads that are often cake-like and enriched with butter.

When you bake 100% whole grain loaves like this one, a digital scale is a must (see my note on baking without a scale below). It will make your baking so much easier. Just put a bowl on your scale, tare, and add your flours one by one—hello, clean counters and calm nerves! And no more dreadful heavy whole-grain loaves.

Serve this easy loaf for breakfast, brunch or dinner. The nutty whole-grain slices beg for a spread of rich creamy Irish butter. Or drizzle on some olive oil, seriously (!), and bring out a platter of good cheese, salumi, pickles, radishes, and olives, and call it a meal!

Featured in: Irish-Inspired Soda Bread Gets a Mediterranean Touch (& Whole Grains). —MariaSpeck

What You'll Need
  • 175 grams (1 1/2 cups minus 1 tablespoon) whole wheat flour, plus extra for the work surface and for dusting
  • 125 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) whole grain spelt flour
  • 60 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) stone-ground cornmeal, preferably medium
  • 35 grams (1/4 cup) sesame seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 300 grams (1 1 /4 cups) chilled whole or low-fat buttermilk, well-shaken *See note below
  • 25 grams (2 tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour your work surface.
  2. Add the whole wheat and spelt flour, and the cornmeal to a large bowl. Add the sesame seeds, baking soda, and salt and thoroughly whisk to combine. Make a well in the center. I often do this step ahead of time to speed things up (be sure to tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap if working ahead).
  3. Add the buttermilk and the olive oil to a 2-cup liquid measure and beat, using a fork, until well-blended. Add almost all this liquid mixture—reserving a scant 1/4 cup—to the center of the flour mixture. Using a fork (my first choice) or a spatula, and starting from the center, gently stir until much of the flour is incorporated and a lumpy dough starts to form.
  4. Lightly flour your hands and gather any remaining flour, drizzling on just enough of the reserved liquid by the tablespoon until a patchy, slightly tacky dough just comes together.
  5. Transfer the dough to the prepared work surface and, using lightly floured hands, give it four to six turns while gently shaping it into a mound. Resist the urge to work the soft dough too much—less is more. Place onto the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Very lightly flour your hands again and gently pat down the round to flatten to about 6 1/2 inches across. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top, going across the whole length of the loaf in a fluid motion, about 1⁄4 inch deep. These two steps contribute to a beautiful rise. Dust the loaf generously with flour, from about a foot above, for a nice rustic touch.
  7. Bake until the loaf turns golden brown around the edges with a crusty top, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway. A cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
  8. Using oven mitts, remove the baking sheet with the bread to a wire rack. Peel off the paper and return the loaf to the rack. (For a slightly softer crust, cover with a clean dishtowel.) Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into 8 wedges with a large serrated knife. Serve warm or on the same day.
  9. Irish soda bread tastes best on the day it is made. But don’t worry: it reheats nicely in a toaster oven the next day. Leftovers also freeze well for up to 1 month. Thaw at room temperature and briefly warm in a microwave, about 20 seconds for a quarter loaf, or in a 300°F oven.
  10. Note: No Buttermilk? No Problem: I often have no buttermilk on hand when I want to bake a quick bread like this one. As long as you have whole or low-fat milk on hand, you can make it on the spot: Add 20 g (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) white vinegar to a liquid cup measure and top with milk until the total weight is 300 g (1 1/4 cup). It will start to curdle within minutes—voila, your buttermilk is ready to bake with.
  11. Note: Measuring Flour Without a Scale: If you don’t have a scale, fluff the flour in the container first, then lightly it spoon into the measuring cup until it is overflowing. Don’t bang the cup on the counter! Sweep across the top to level with a thin-bladed knife.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Nicole S. Urdang
    Nicole S. Urdang
  • Margot Mustich
    Margot Mustich
  • MariaSpeck
  • mlink915
Maria Speck is the author of Simply Ancient Grains and Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (both by Ten Speed Press). Her work has received multiple awards, including a Julia Child and an M.F.K. Fisher cookbook award. Raised in Germany and Greece, Maria is a veteran journalist and food writer with a lifelong passion for whole grains.

24 Reviews

Alison August 2, 2020
This is a tasty variation on the Irish soda breads I have eaten in Ireland (mainly brown). I used the Irish whole meal flour that makes the Irish ones so delicious, with a nuttier, richer flavor the the usual WW (I get mine from KA), fine cornmeal, and spelt flour. I don't like sesame seeds in my bread (ok on top! weird, I know), so substituted chopped walnuts, which went really well with the flours. I sliced per usual, since it toasts better this way. A great breakfast loaf, with some butter and jam.
MariaSpeck August 5, 2020
Hi Alison, wonderful to hear that you enjoyed my soda bread. I agree on the Irish whole meal flour which I love as well. And one day I will try it with walnuts. They sound like a terrific addition. Stay well!
Claire May 15, 2018
Hello Mariaspeck, it's great to see a version of Irish soda bread here. I'm Irish and I've baked and eaten many a round of soda bread. In the photo and recipe you cut the bread into wedges...... I have never seen it served like that in Ireland. The cross is correct, but it should be cut in regular slices, in fact the texture of real soda bread would make eating wedges pretty heavy going. It shouldn't be sweet by tradition though there was a fshion in the '90's of adding molasses for a little sweetness.
MariaSpeck May 25, 2018
Hi Claire, thank you for sharing your knowledge of Irish bread. Apologies for the delay. Mine is, of course, not a traditional loaf but an Irish-inspired soda bread, using different whole grains flours and even olive oil for a modern twist on this classic. In my last book, Simply Ancient Grains, I went further, using amaranth flour, dried cranberries, and fresh rosemary—crazy-good if you allow me! Let me know if try it one of my non-traditional soda breads one day. The cutting it into wedges is my personal preference. Breaking this bread would be beautiful too.
Nicole S. March 24, 2018
Hello again,
I just made the vegan version, half the recipe, and baked it for 20 minutes. I also addded 1/2 cup of currants and 1 Tbsp caraway seeds. It came out great, though next time I would add a Tbsp of maple syrup. It still won’t be too sweet, but it lets me just grab a piece and eat it plain.
I got four portions from half the recipe.
MariaSpeck March 25, 2018
Hi Nicole, great to hear that you enjoyed the vegan version!
angeles March 24, 2018
Hi mlink 915
I tried the vegan version of the irish soda bread, skipping the buttermilk and using insteadtm 300 gr good quality soy milk with 2 tablesoon white rice vinegar, The soy milk curds nicely after adding the vinegar and the result is EXCELLENT. Of course, I can't compare the taste of the diary version, but mine is veeery good. By the way, because I live in Spain, I used 50 grs of premium arbequina olive oil. Arbequina is a local olive variety, very small, dark green and strong scented

Regards from Barcelona
Nicole S. March 24, 2018
Thank you! That’s helpful to know.
Caitlin March 21, 2018
Great, quick bread!

Used the recommended amounts of whole wheat flour and cornmeal, and swapped all purpose flour for spelt.

Next time (if I use the all purpose) I might add a bit of honey to sweeten things up a bit.

Thanks for sharing!
MariaSpeck March 21, 2018
So thrilled to hear this—thank you for your note, Caitlin. I deliberately made this into an unsweetened bread but a bit of honey can never be bad. Happy baking!
angeles March 16, 2018
Dear Maria
did you tried to skip the buttermilk for a vegan version of your Irish soda Bread?
do you think soy milk + cider vinegar instead of buttermilk will also work?


Angeles Marti
Barcelona - Spain
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
I have not tried it but I don’t se why it shouldn’t work. It will likely taste a bit different but I'm sure you know this. Please let me know how it goes. Happy baking, Angeles!
mlink915 March 18, 2018
Please share your findings as I would love to know how the vegan version fares!
Margot M. March 16, 2018
I'd like to make some today. I have everything I need except the spelt flour. Would it be terrible if I substituted all-purpose flour for the spelt? Another thought is to try making a "flour" out of rolled oats in the food processor. What do you think?
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
Hi Margot, yes you can use all-purpose for the spelt flour. Home-made oat flour could work as well. But I would probably use only about half (60 g) oat flour and more all-purpose or whole wheat for structure. If you replace all the spelt with oats it will likely have a bit more heft but also natural sweetness from the oats. I would love to hear would you do. Enjoy!
Cynthia D. March 16, 2018
Any reason I can't use 300g white whole wheat flour, since that is all I have on hand, instead of the whole wheat + spelt combination? I've never used or even eaten spelt before, so I am unsure whether there is something essential it contributes here other than its lack of gluten. Thanks.
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
You can certainly make this loaf using only white whole wheat flour, Cynthia. It will be a slightly heartier loaf. I use the lower-gluten spelt here to mimic the softer wheat that is traditionally used in these breads. Also, I spent my formative years in Germany where we price the grain for its natural sweet and mild flavor. That said, go ahead and use only white whole wheat—I'm sure it will be delicious!
Cynthia D. March 16, 2018
Thanks Maria -- I read Margot's version of my question too, and I might just substitute all-purpose flour for the spelt portion instead of making the entire loaf whole wheat (didn't think of that myself!). Your recipe sounds great, and other than the flour substitution, I look forward to following it exactly. I'll let you know how it turns out!
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
Wonderful—happy to hear you are inspired. Enjoy, Cynthia!
Nicole S. March 16, 2018
I make mine with spelt, rye and barley flour. Use kefir in place of the buttermilk. And, instead of sesame seeds I add a TBSP of caraway seeds and 1/3 cup currants.
MariaSpeck March 16, 2018
This sounds like a great combination of flavors, Nicole! I too have made versions with rye and barley which I love. Let me know if you try this one!
sara March 15, 2018
There seems to be a step missing in between 2 and 3 - when and how do the buttermilk and oil get incorporated into the dry ingredients? You reference "reserved liquid" - reserved from what?
MariaSpeck March 15, 2018
Indeed, dear Sara! Please see step #3. I'm so glad you dropped a note—thank you! Let me know if you make it.
sara March 15, 2018
That makes a lot more sense, thank you for clarifying!