Irish Soda Bread

whole wheat irish soda breadWell, dearhearts, our table is nearly set for a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner party: we’ve got braised lamb, Irish cheeses, colcannon with kale, pints of Guinness. And if I can manage to abstain from devouring the entire loaf before dinner, we have one more classic, essential addition: soda bread.

This no-knead recipe comes from Myrtle Allen (via Colman Andrews’ recent cookbook), beloved matriarch of Irish cooking and the proprietor of the Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland. Daughter-in-law Darina Allen founded the famed cookery school at Ballymaloe and serves as head of the Slow Food movement in Ireland; she’s a sort of Alice Waters figure to Myrtle’s Marion Cunningham, picking up where her mother-in-law left off in codyifing the canon of Irish cuisine and promoting traditional cooking and agriculture. (Darina’s daughter-in-law, Rachel, is a popular television chef on the BBC. Quite the culinary dynasty, the Allens.)

And thanks to Myrtle, I’m happy to report that my unlucky streak with soda bread recipes is officially over. (I can’t tell you how many gummy, leaden doorstops I’ve made in an attempt to make a decent loaf. What should have been easy-peasy was just so sad.) From Andrews I learned that (aha!) Irish flour is significantly softer than American all-purpose (meaning it has less protein and a weaker gluten structure) and so for this recipe I used whole-wheat pastry flour, with a fantastic result. The bread has a tender, tightly-knit crumb and a satisfying density (wonderful for toast) with a full, wholesome flavor that’s bolstered by an addition of Irish oats. I added a handful of currants and caraway seeds, an Irish-American extravagance, but you can easily omit one or the other or both. Serve warm or room temperature with a slather of good salted Irish butter and preserves. Dinner’s ready!

whole wheat brown soda breadBallymaloe Irish Soda Bread
adapted from Colman Andrews’ The Country Cooking of Ireland, 2009

  • 5 C whole-wheat pastry flour, preferably stone-ground
  • 1/2 C Irish steel-cut oats or oat bran
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 to 4 cups buttermilk, cold (I used a scant 3 C)
  • 1/2 (generous) C currants
  • 1 Tbsp caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment and set aside. In a small bowl, add the currants and enough water to cover and set aside to rehydrate.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, salt and caraway seeds. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in 2 cups of the buttermilk; gently stir from the center of the bowl outwards. Add the (drained) currants and enough additional buttermilk until you have a soft dough with no traces of raw flour. On a floured surface, turn out the dough and shape, without kneading, into a round (about 8-9″ in diameter). With a paring knife, cut a deep “X” in the top of the bread. Brush the top with buttermilk.

Bake on the prepared baking sheet for 45-60 minutes, until well-browned and the bottom of the soda bread sounds hollow when tapped. Serve warm or room temperature.

Note: Baking soda activates when it comes into contact with acid (the buttermilk, in our case). Using cold ingredients will help stall that process until the dough hits the oven, ensuring a good rise and better texture.


About scarpettakate

Scarpetta Dolcetto celebrates simple, seasonal, scratch home cookery.
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13 Responses to Irish Soda Bread

  1. Hester says:

    Thank you so much for sharing about a lovely bread like this! I don’t think I’ve ever had Irish Soda Bread but I’d like to try it out now 🙂

  2. Sara says:

    Beautiful loaf! I just tried soda bread for the first time. Now I really want to give this recipe a try. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I am in love with Irish soda bread and it took me a while to get the recipe right myself. I’ll have to try yours, too, since steel cut oats are a staple in my house but I’ve never thought to use it in the bread. Oh, there are really only few things better than the taste of Irish bread. I understand your fear of eating the entire loaf–I would be tempted to do the same!

  4. Ruth says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to make this from so many recipes. My future son-in-law really embraces his Irish heritage so I’m going to try this and send it to him. He doesn’t know it yet but he thanks you too!

  5. One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. ~Luciano Pavarotti

  6. Lovely! Irish soda bread is the only bread I can make. Yeast scares me!! Your loaf looks georgous. I would have been scared to use the wheat flour, but it worked, so maybe you’re better at this than you think =) Cheers.

  7. I have wheat flour. I have made Irish soda bread, I never thought of using wheat flour. It is so much better for you than regular white. I will give it a try.

  8. Ah, my soda bread looks really plain compared to yours! I didn’t add anything to it. Yours looks so pretty with all those extras in it.

  9. I love a good Irish soda bread recipe and this one looks awesome! I love the healthy twist too!

  10. Thanks, all, for the nice notes!

  11. Claudia says:

    This is indeed perfect soda bread. I have been staring at that beautiful cookbook for eons. You can bet I am saving this for St. Patrick’s Day.

  12. Aimee says:

    I just shared this with my (half) Irish husband and he’s begging me to make the entire meal for St. Patrick’s Day. I can’t say I blame him; the lamb shanks, soda bread and colcannon look AMAZING. I was searching for the perfect meal and I think I’ve found it. Thanks for sharing. I hope mine turns out as nice as your beautiful pictures!

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