Irish soda bread is a rustic quick bread leavened with baking soda instead of yeast. This bread is a great breakfast recipe similar to biscuits or scones, albeit a big biscuit or scone. As a matter of fact, Irish soda bread tastes a lot like biscuits. It has a mild, buttery flavor, and since you can make Irish soda bread with or without currants, it can also have a slightly sweet flavor. Either way, you’re going to fall in love with it.
This post is an update from a 2018 version. It now has pretty pictures and more concise instructions.
What is Irish Soda Bread?
Irish soda bread is a bread that is similar to biscuits or scones. It’s just called “soda bread” in Ireland because, well, they’re already in Ireland, so there’s no need to be redundant. Irish soda bread is leavened with baking soda instead of yeast. According to the woman who taught me the basics of soda bread, Moira, that’s the way it’s been done for centuries.
I met Moira when I studied in Virginia in County Cavan, Ireland, back in the nineties. According to Moira, the flours back in the day changed with the times, but since making soda bread was so inexpensive, many Irish stuck to the softer flour instead of turning to the newer hard wheat varieties. Basic Irish soda bread only has four ingredients: flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. See? Inexpensive.
No shade, but I felt my version needed a bit more. That’s what culinary arts are all about, though. Learning the basics- hopefully from someone of that culture- and putting your own spin on it. With credit always given, of course. Shout out to Moira.
Here’s the Virginia Park Lodge in County Cavan, Ireland, where Moira and I met, by the way.
What do I need to make Irish Soda Bread?
My Irish soda bread begins with a unique spin on the dry ingredients. Moira taught me to use soft wheat flour or pastry flour. Our version is all-purpose flour. However, I prefer a lighter crumb than all-purpose flour can provide. So, I’ve developed a recipe that mimics the pastry flour. It’s a combination of bread flour and cake flour. For this recipe, you also need baking soda, a wee bit of baking powder, kosher salt, sugar, buttermilk, and unsalted butter.
I mix currants into my Irish soda bread, as well.
What does sodium bicarbonate do in quick bread?
Sodium bicarbonate, AKA baking soda, is used in Irish soda bread to help it rise. However, sodium bicarbonate needs a liquid (moisture) and an acid to work.
When a liquid and acid are present, the soda releases the carbon dioxide that allows it to leaven whatever it’s supposed to. This happens as soon as the moisture and acid are added, so, unlike baking powder, your clock starts ticking once the reaction begins. The heat from the oven helps the soda do its thing, so once you add the buttermilk- which is the acid and the moisture- you need to work fast to get the bread into the pan and into the oven.
I also add baking powder to my dough because it helps the soda give it more height.
Do I have to add currants?
The most common fruit in Irish soda bread is currants. Currants are just dried grapes. The only difference between them and raisins is the variety of grapes. Adding currants to Irish soda bread gives a sweet-tart characteristic to otherwise plain-tasting bread.
You can replace the currants in your Irish soda bread with cranberries, raisins, or sultanas (golden raisins). The original Irish soda bread didn’t have any fruit in it, so you can totally omit the currants and still have an amazing loaf of bread.
I recommend rehydrating the currants (or any dried fruit) if you are using them. As they are, the currants are hard and really chewy. It’s not a horribly bad thing, but they get even harder and chewier when you start baking them. Soak the currants in hot tap water for 20 minutes before adding them to this recipe. I usually start soaking them before measuring out the rest of the ingredients. By the time I’m ready to start, they’re all hydrated. You don’t have to rehydrate them, but it does make a difference.
Drain them in a fine-mesh sieve before adding them to the rest of the ingredients in the recipe.
What pan do I use for baking Irish Soda Bread?
The Irish baked their soda bread in cast iron pots on the hearth. They’d snuggle it into the embers and allow the bread to bake until golden. Some Irish baked theirs on a griddle, but the majority employed what we know as a dutch oven.
I love how evenly my loaves bake in my cast iron dutch oven, so that’s what I use to bake my bread in. You can do the same or use a 9 or 10-inch cake pan. You can also bake the loaf-free form on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. I don’t love this method because the loaf doesn’t bake up as tall or as round as I like.
Lightly spray your pan with non-stick baking spray. Crisscross two 3-inch wide strips of parchment paper inside the pot. This isn’t a must, but it does help remove the baked loaf from the pot later.
Once the pot is prepped, set it to the side.
How do I make the Irish Soda Bread?
Making the dough for the Irish soda bread is stupidly easy.
Use your hands to toss the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl for a minute. You just want to make sure the ingredients are well combined.
Next, shred the very cold butter into the dry ingredients. Cold butter is essential in this recipe because you want it to hold its shape after mixing it with the dry ingredients. Use your fingers to break the butter into smaller pieces and coat it with the dry ingredients. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal when you’re done.
Toss the drained currants into the rest of the ingredients until they are coated in the flour.
Do I have to knead the dough?
Add the buttermilk to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands to mix the buttermilk into the ingredients until it forms a very thick dough. Scrape the dough onto your countertop and fold it over 2 times or until it holds together. Don’t overmix the dough, or your bread will become tough as it bakes. If the dough is not holding together, add a 1/4 cup more buttermilk.
Remember that once you add the buttermilk, your clock starts ticking. The baking soda reacts, and the longer it takes to get into the oven, the shorter your loaf will be.
Why is there a cross on Irish Soda Bread loaves?
Press the dough into the prepared pan. Irish soda bread always had a cross imprinted on it to guard against evil spirits. I can use all the help I can get to avoid evil spirits, so I always mark mine with one. You don’t have to. I also like to sprinkle more cake flour over my loaf before baking. This is purely for aesthetics, so feel free to skip this step.
How long do I bake the loaf?
Bake the Irish soda bread uncovered in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 40 minutes. The loaf will sound hollow when you thump it and be a gorgeous golden brown color.
Remove the pot (or pan) from the oven and cover the pot with its lid. You could drape a clean kitchen towel over the loaf if you baked the bread in a cake pan.
Covering the loaf softens the crust of Irish soda bread slightly. If you like the texture of a really crisp crust, you can skip this step. Cool the bread, covered, for 20 minutes.
How do I serve it?
The Irish usually eat Irish soda bread during teatime. Moira said she ate it whenever she felt like it, which is probably why she and I got along so well. My family eats it as a breakfast bread, much like biscuits and scones.
Slice the warm loaf and spread salted butter or your favorite jam over the slices. Tea is a great drink to enjoy with it, though I’m a coffee girl myself. You can make it a full meal by serving it with fresh fruit and yogurt. Bacon is also a good idea. I mean, when is it not?
How do I store leftover Irish Soda Bread?
Once you’ve had your fill, transfer leftovers to an airtight container. Store Irish soda bread at room temperature for 3 days.
Reheat slices in the toaster to give it that freshly baked flavor.
Can I freeze it after baking?
You can freeze Irish soda bread for 2 months. First, allow it to cool completely. Wrap the loaf in plastic wrap- I also put it in a freezer storage bag- and freeze it for 2 months.
You can thaw the frozen loaf at room temperature, then slice and reheat using your preferred method.
What other recipes go well with this one?
If you want to make a whole Irish meal, here are more of my favorite recipes to serve this loaf with:
Again, this recipe is amazing on its own. Give it a try, and let me know what you think in the comments below. Don’t forget to pin it to your bread board for easy finding, too.
Irish Soda Breadat Sense & Edibility
- cast iron dutch oven or 10-inch cake pan
- 1 cup (145 grams) currants
- 3 cups (420 grams) bread flour
- 1 cup (125 grams) cake flour
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar optional
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter cold
- 1 1/4 cups (310 milliliters) buttermilk cold
Rehydrate the Currants
- Soak the currants in 1 cup of very hot tap water for 20 minutes.Drain the currants well using a fine-mesh sieve and set them aside.
Prepare the Irish Soda Bread Dough
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly spray a 5 qt cast iron dutch oven with non-stick baking spray. Crisscross two 3-inch wide strips of parchment paper inside the pot. Set it to the side while you prepare the dough. *See notes for baking without a dutch oven.*
- In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to toss the bread flour, cake flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, kosher salt, and baking powder together for 1 minute or until well combined.
- Next, shred the cold butter into the dry ingredients. Use your fingers to break the butter into smaller pieces and coat it with the dry ingredients. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal when you're done.
- Toss the drained currants into the butter-flour mixture until they are coated in the flour. Add the buttermilk to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
- Use your hands to mix the buttermilk into the ingredients until it forms a very thick dough. Scrape the dough onto your countertop and fold it over 2 times or until it holds together. If the dough is not holding together, add a 1/4 cup more buttermilk.
Bake, then Cool the Irish Soda Bread
- Press the dough into the prepared pan. Use a bench scraper or knife to mark a cross on the surface of the dough.Bake the Irish soda bread uncovered in a 375°F (190°C) oven for 40 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when you thump it and be a golden brown color.
- Remove the pot (or pan) from the oven and cover the pot with its lid. You could drape a clean kitchen towel over the loaf if you baked the bread in a cake pan. Cool the bread, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Slice the warm loaf and spread salted butter or your favorite jam over the slices.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Use a 9 or 10-inch cake pan or bake the loaf free-form on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper instead of using cast iron dutch oven.
- Use 4 cups (or 550 grams) all-purpose flour instead of the bread and cake flours. The bread's texture will be more crumbly with substitution.
- Replace the buttermilk with an equal amount of plain greek or regular yogurt, sour cream, or kefir.
- Replace the currants with cranberries, raisins, or sultanas (golden raisins), or omit the fruit completely.
Tips and Techniques:
- Start soaking the current before measuring out the rest of the ingredients. By the time you're ready to start, they will be soft.
- Currants that aren't rehydrated become harder and chewier when you start baking them.
- The parchment paper in the pan isn't a must, but it does help remove the baked loaf from the pot later.
- Cold butter is essential in this recipe because you want it to hold its shape after mixing it with the dry ingredients.
- Remember that once you add the buttermilk, your clock starts ticking. The baking soda reacts, and the longer it takes to get into the oven, the shorter your loaf will be.
- Don't overmix the dough, or your bread will become tough as it bakes.
- You can sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cake flour over the loaf before baking for a prettier loaf after baking.
- Covering the loaf after removing it from the oven softens the crust of Irish soda bread slightly. If you like the texture of a really crisp crust, you can skip that step.
- Transfer leftovers to an airtight container.
- Store the bread at room temperature for 3 days.
- Reheat slices in the toaster to give it that freshly baked flavor.
- Allow the loaf to cool completely.
- Wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and then into a freezer storage bag.
- Freeze the bread for 2 months.