Contrary to popular belief, Irish soda bread didn’t originate from Ireland. In fact, it was the Native Americans who first used soda to make their bread before European colonization. These indigenous people leaven the food from ashes of wood rather than yeast.
Due to hunger and poverty as a result of the potato famine, soda bread was gradually adopted and became a popular staple in many Irish kitchens. This economical recipe required only a few ingredients, including sour milk, salt, baking soda, and flour. It was also a great option for rural families which had limited access to ingredients and cooking equipment.
Since most of the farmhouse and lower-class kitchens didn’t have access to an oven at that time, soda bread was prepared on griddles with open hearths or in iron pots. This unique method allowed for the signature hard crust, slight sourness, and dense texture that today Irish soda bread is typically known for.
Traditional soda bread was typically marked with a cross on its top for superstitious reasons. Most Irish families believed that this would help to ward off evils and protect their family. However, typical shapes and patterns of the loaves could vary greatly by region. Today, Irish soda bread has gained widespread popularity all over the world. Modern versions sometimes include other ingredients like seeds, raisins, sugars, or butter to enhance its taste and flavor.
Despite its short story and humble origin, Irish soda bread still plays an essential role in the culinary of the country. Now it’s time to get started and make a loaf of this bread for this season’s green-tinted celebration.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 6 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1 1/2 cups dark seedless raisins (optional)
- 1 tablespoon caraway seed (Optional)
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Grease 2-quart round casserole dish or preheated baking stone.
- In large bowl mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
- With pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Stir in raisins and caraway seed. (optional)
- In small bowl with fork, beat eggs slightly.
- Remove 1 tablespoon egg and reserve.
- Stir buttermilk into remaining egg.
- Stir into flour mixture just until flour is moistened (dough will be sticky).
- Turn dough onto well-floured surface.
- Shape into a ball.
- Place in casserole dish.
- In center of ball, cross 4-inch cross, 1/4 inch deep.
- Gently, brush dough with reserve egg.
- Bake about one hour and 20 minutes, until golden brown.
- Cool in casserole dish on cooling rack for 10 minutes.
- Gently, turn out of casserole dish and return bread to cooling rack to finish cooling.
- Soda bread goes stale very quickly and should be used on the day of baking or the day after.
Use tips to make perfect Irish soda bread
Baking your own Irish soda bread at home can be exciting and challenging at the same time. Here are a few helpful tips that you can try to yield better loaves.
- Start with choosing the best ingredients. It is suggested to use locally milled, fresh, unbleached pastry flour or flour of the soft wheat. Avoid purchasing hard flour or self-rising flour as it already contains salt and baking powder. For baking soda, you should use a fresh box to prevent dense bread. If you don’t have cultured or soured milk on hand, consider making your own with low-fat milk and lemon juice.
- While many people often stir the dough with a fork, it’s better to use your hand which can be stiffened into a “claw”. You should thrust the claw in the middle and work in circles outwards. Stop when the mixture gets evenly moistened.
- You shouldn’t knead the dough. Instead, make sure to be gentle with it.
- Also, don’t forget to cut the cross in the middle of the bread.
- Once the bread has been baked and cooled, slice the bread into wedges, then eat with butter. It is a must-have option for St. Patrick’s Day, which can be served with a Dublin coddle, beef stew or Irish stew.