Feb 25, 2022

LET’S DISH! Let’s Talk About Irish Soda Bread

By MaryAnn Miano

We are all Irish this month as it marches in and brings us St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th. It’s our great excuse to wear green and to hope for a little luck of the Irish to shine upon us. We also get to enjoy some Irish delicacies. This St. Patrick’s Day, let’s feature Irish soda bread.  

Irish soda bread is a bread that is leavened not with yeast, but with buttermilk and baking soda (bicarbonate soda) to help it rise. It is a dense bread that is enjoyed at breakfast, but can be eaten at any time of day.  

It became popular in Ireland during the Irish potato famine of 1845. The bread was born out of hunger. It is a creation of the most basic, simple and inexpensive ingredients, and it helped feed many who could not find food or ingredients during that time. Many of the peasant citizens had no oven access, so the bread was cooked in iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This unique cooking method created the dense texture, hard crust and slight sourness that soda bread is known for.

Irish soda bread is taken seriously in Ireland as a part of their culinary identity. There is a group called “Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread,” which is dedicated to protecting this national treasure, especially on St. Patrick’s Day.  

Many of us have seen soda bread with raisins or currants, but those would have been luxury ingredients at the time this bread became a staple. The raisins were an American addition to the basic soda bread, and the recipe has grown with more ingredients added to the mix to make the bread even tastier.  

Legend has it that cutting a cross on the top of the bread before baking would ward off the devil and protect the household. Typically, the Irish serve their soda bread cut into slices and served warm with a little butter or marmalade to spread over it. It can even be served with and dipped into a hearty stew.  

No matter how you slice it, here are a few different versions of Irish soda bread to try. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!

IRISH SODA BREAD

VERSION 1

Ingredients:

4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 stick butter or margarine

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup raisins

1 tbs. caraway seeds (optional)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients just until moistened. Don’t over beat. Grease two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans and bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes.

VERSION 2

Ingredients:

4 cups flour

4 tbs. sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cream of tartar

1-2 cups raisins

1 tbs baking soda

½ cup shortening

2 eggs (slightly beaten)

1 1/3 cup buttermilk

1-2 tbs caraway seeds (optional)

Directions:

Sift flour, sugar, salt, cream of tartar and soda together. Cut in shortening, stir in caraway and raisins. Add eggs and buttermilk, stir just until blended. Turn out of floured surface and knead eight to 10 times. Place in a 9-inch greased cake pan and bake at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes or until done.

VERSION 3

Ingredients:

5 cups flour

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 ¼ tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 stick butter, softened

2 cups raisins (soaked in warm water, 15 minutes)

2 ½ cups buttermilk

1 large egg (slightly beaten)

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, add and stir the first five ingredients. Cut in butter, then add drained raisins. Add buttermilk and egg to flour mixture. Mix well and shape. Place into two well-buttered 9-inch pans. Cut a cross on each and bake for 1 hour at 350°. Optional—may add 1 tbs caraway seed to mixture before baking.