A cherished family recipe, this traditional soda bread has a crusty exterior, a dense, tender crumb, and a soft, biscuity texture. Add a touch of sweetness and a handful of raisins and you've got the best Irish soda bread around!
What's the Story Behind this Recipe?
My affinity for Ireland dates back to before I can remember, and St. Patrick's Day is always a real celebration at our house. On March 17th each year, I serve up a Irish-American feast of "Once-a-Year Mashed Potatoes" (so called because they are so rich and creamy you should only eat them once a year), slow-cooked corned beef, corn, cabbage, and soda bread. I usually throw in something new from year to year, just to keep things interesting.
However, before even one bite is taken at our annual family feast, I deliver what has infamously become known Mama's St Patrick's Day Speech. In all seriousness, I share a few thoughts about the fascinating and inspiring life of the young Roman-Brit, once enslaved by Irish pirates, who went on to become the man we know as Saint Patrick. (St Pat's greatest accomplishment? IMHO: Teaching Ireland to read.)
My little speech takes all of about three minutes; and my kids sigh and groan and laugh through it every year. I wouldn't have it any other way. At this point, most of my girls can repeat St Pat's story almost verbatim, and I know that at least one of them now requires her own St Patrick's Day guests to sit through her rendition.
Along with my little monologue, this Irish soda bread is one of the cornerstones of our St Patrick's Day family dinner each year. I hope it becomes one of your cherished traditions as well. Enjoy!
Recommended Reading: If you are interested learning more about the real man who became Saint Patrick, check out How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.
What Goes into this Recipe
Irish Soda Bread is an easy quick bread recipe – no yeast, no proofing, no kneading, no waiting!
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
- Flour: We recommend using all-purpose flour for this recipe. If you use an alternative flour, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid and the baking time.
- White sugar: This is one of the few recipes for which we recommend using white sugar only. You can use brown sugar, but your loaf may be significantly browner coming out of the oven.
- Raisins: Dried currants are traditionally used in making Irish soda bread, but they can be difficult to find in the Pacific NW. We most often use a combination of golden raisins and dried cranberries when making this recipe. Just use your favorite raisin.
- Caraway seeds: The recipe indicated that these are optional, and they are; but only because there are folks who just can't eat them. If your dental work in is order, add the caraway seeds: they give the bread its characteristic flavor that is lost without them.
- Buttermilk: Use full fat buttermilk if you can find it. If you're anything like us, we don't always have buttermilk on hand; but there are a multitude of substitutes for buttermilk.
- Our Go-to substitute buttermilk: ⅓ cup Greek yogurt to ⅔ cup milk = 1 cup of buttermilk substitute.
- Alternate, if we are out of yogurt: 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of lemon juice to 1 cup (240 ml) of milk. Use full fat milk or 2% milk. (We have not tested it with skim milk, so can't recommend it.)
- Sour cream: This soda bread recipe has been tested with both light or full fat sour cream, with equally good results.
- Greek yogurt is a passable substitute for sour cream in this recipe.
- Butter: Use real butter. We usually use salted butter for tis recipe; if you use unsalted butter, add an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt to the batter.
How to Make this Recipe
DO NOT use an electric mixer for this recipe.
Preheat oven to 340° | 171°C.
Lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron pie dish, 9-inch pie dish, or standard loaf pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins, and caraway seeds.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, sour cream, and melted butter.
Using a spatula, knead the dough against the side of the bowl for 10 to 15 strokes. The dough will be sticky, somewhat like a thick biscuit dough.
From the time you start the spatula-kneading until you are done, the dough should change character slightly; from being very sticky and unstructured to being somewhat less sticky, with a bit of structure and a slightly more supple texture.
Which is all to say, the dough will change, but not that much, so don't over-mix or over-knead it thinking it doesn't have enough structure. Remember, this is a quick bread, not a yeast bread.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mound the dough in the prepared pie dish or loaf pan.
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Brush the mounded dough-loaf with this mixture.
Use a sharp, wet knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.
This step is optional, but the “rest" time results in a loftier loaf: Allow dough to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before putting into oven. Do not allow it to rest longer than 15 minutes.
Bake preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Brush the loaf with the buttermilk-butter mixture once or twice during baking.
Test loaf for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center – it should come out clean. An instant read thermometer will read 195°-200°F | 90°C | 93°C when the bread is ready to take out of the oven.
Allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Turn the bread onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
FAQs & Expert Tips
The secret to moist, tender soda bread is in the mixing.
This quick bread recipe employs the Muffin Method for mixing the ingredients. This method works particularly well with recipes that have a lot of liquid and not much fat. It keeps the bread light and tender, and is usually used in recipes that are baked from a batter (i.e., cornbread, coffee cakes, muffins, pancakes, quick loaf breads, etc.).
The "Muffin Method" refers to the process of mixing all the dry ingredients in one bowl and all the liquid ingredients in a separate bowl, and finally combining the two mixtures together.
Always add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
This applies to all quick breads mixed using the Muffin Method, from pancakes to banana bread. When you add the wet to the dry, it can create pockets of flour and require more mixing. This can result in a denser, tougher loaf. Adding the dry to the wet ingredients is more effective, generally requires less time mixing, and results in a more delicate, tender loaf.
Both baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, but they act differently in recipes.
Baking soda requires an acid to create a chemical reaction. (In many recipes, this is added in the form of lemon juice, buttermilk, or vinegar.) When baking soda come into contact with an acid, it releases carbon dioxide bubbles, which causes baked goods to rise.
Baking powder is baking soda mixed with a dry acid, so it doesn't need an added acid to work.
Baking soda has much more leavening power than does baking powder, so you usually don’t need to use as much. It is important to carefully measure baking soda; use too much and it can give foods a metallic flavor.
This soda bread recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda. This is because there is an acid (buttermilk) in the recipe to activate the baking soda, but that chemical reaction alone isn’t enough to give the bread the lift it needs.
Since too much baking soda can give foods a metallic taste, it is better to add a little baking powder to achieve the desired lift.
Irish Soda Bread
- 1 9-inch cast iron pie pan or standard loaf pan
Brush on Top
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 340° | 171°C. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cast iron skillet, 9-inch round baking pan, or heavy standard loaf pan.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, raisins and caraway seeds.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, and melted butter. Whisk in beaten eggs.
- Fold the flour mixture into the liquid mixture, mixing just until well combined. Using a spatula, knead the dough against the side of the bowl for 10 to 15 strokes. The dough will be sticky, somewhat like a thick biscuit dough.
- Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mound the dough in the prepared pie dish or loaf pan. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Brush the mounded dough-loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp, wet knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.
- This step is optional, but the “rest” time will result in a loftier loaf: Allow dough to rest in the pan for about 10 minutes before putting into oven.
- Bake the soda bread in a preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Brush the loaf with the buttermilk-butter mixture once or twice during baking.
- Test loaf for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center – it should come out clean.An instant read thermometer will read 195°-200°F | 90°C | 93°C when the bread is ready to take out of the oven. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Turn bread onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
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