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What is Irish Soda Bread?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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Irish soda bread is a unique quick bread made with soft flour, baking soda, buttermilk, butter, and salt. A bread with any other ingredients in it is not a true Irish soda bread, although it may be passed off as one. When made well, the bread is dense and very wholesome, with a rich, tangy flavor and a moist crumb. This bread is often served warm with a smear of butter, and it pairs well with a wide range of dishes, especially soups and stews.

The climate of Ireland is not the best for growing the hard varieties of wheat which are traditionally used in breadmaking. Hard wheat can stand up to kneading and rising, while a soft wheat tends to turn mushy and gooey. When baking soda was introduced to Ireland in the mid-1840s, cooks starting using it as a substitute for yeast. The result was Irish soda bread, a basic staple of Irish cuisine with enduring popularity.

To make the bread, sift together three cups of wheat flour and one cup of white flour, along with one teaspoon of salt and one and ½ teaspoons of baking soda. Try to use flours made from soft wheat; avoid a flour designed for breadmaking or a self-rising flour. Cut a tablespoon of butter into the mixture, working it in by hand to make the flour crumbly.

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Next, slowly add two scant cups of buttermilk, turning the dough into a loose mass. Knead the dough very briefly on a floured surface and then press it into an oiled and floured bread pan. By tradition, Irish soda bread is marked with a large cross, which allows gas to escape and makes the bread easy to divide. Bake the bread in a 425 degree Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) oven for half an hour, covered, and then uncover the bread for another 15 minutes. The bread is finished if it sounds hollow when tapped.

Turn the bread out into a basket lined with a towel. This bread tastes best on the day it is made; it tends to become stale if stored too long. You may be able to revive day old bread with a sprinkling of water and a quick toasting. While butter is a common topping, you can also use clotted cream or preserves.

If you insist on adding raisins or fruit to your the bread, call it spotted dog. A version with ingredients like eggs, sugar, or baking powder is more properly termed a cake. Although both of these baked goods may be perfectly delicious, they should not be confused with traditional Irish soda bread, which is delicious in its simplicity.

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Rotergirl
Post 2

@Pippinwhite -- If White Lily flour is sold in your area, you don't have to look too far for a soft wheat flour! It's a soft wheat brand. I think it's pretty widely available, but they also have a website.

Irish soda bread is easy, and it's good, too. I bake it a lot in the winter, when I want something hearty. It's not much more effort than cornbread. You just have to knead it a little. It's not a big deal. Mine has always turned out well.

People frequently think it's sourdough until I tell them it's soda bread. The two aren't that similar in texture, so it must be the tangy taste. When I tell them it's Irish soda bread, they're all impressed. I don't tell them how easy it is.

Pippinwhite
Post 1

Although I love to bake, I've never been much of a bread maker. This looks like one I can handle. I guess I'm not into bread because yeast scares me. Well, I mean it can be very tricky to work with yeast, and I'd rather have something a little more certain than traditional bread. Irish soda bread sounds like the perfect compromise.

Finding the soft wheat flour in the US would be the most difficult part, I think. There are probably places online that sell it, though. I'll have to look around to see what's available in my area.

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