As a second generation Irish girl, nothing makes me happier than a dinner of beef, potatoes and a fresh toasty loaf of Irish Soda Bread. On St. Patrick’s Day, this dinner is absolutely essential. I’ve made many different forms of soda bread over the years, some containing caraway seeds and flax, others containing generous amounts of roasted garlic. But as my grandmother taught me, traditional soda bread should be simple; in fact, real soda bread contains nothing more than flour, butter, baking soda and salt. Why no yeast? Because of the Irish climate, hard wheat could not be grown (which rises nicely when yeast is added). To make up for this, the Irish used baking soda as a leavening agent, which is why the delicious result is called Soda Bread.
I’ve never been a fan of the versions containing bits like caraway seeds, raisins or currants (Martha Stewart’s, sadly, is one such recipe), so the two I’m including and had success with contain none of those extras. The key to soda bread is to never overwork the dough. Only mix until the ingredients are moistened and the dough ball is formed. Overworking it will destroy the bread. The first recipe is more savory, slightly more impressive and great for dinner. The second is more traditional and simple and I love it for breakfast with jam (although it works for any meal, really).
Rosemary Butter Soda Bread
1/2 stick unsalted butter (I use Plugra or Kerrygold)
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tbsp sugar (I use Muscovado sugar for some extra flavor, but regular works well too)
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper plus extra for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten
1. Preheat to 375°F. Stir the butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes and remove from heat.
2. Mix flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 tsp ground pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour the buttermilk and melted browned butter over the flour mixture. Mix with a fork only until flour mixture is just moistened.
3. Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough; it should only take a few kneads to bring the dough together. Divide in half and shape each half into ball and flatten each into 6″ round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing a few inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white and sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper (and extra rosemary, if you love the stuff as much as I do). Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each.
4. Bake breads about 45 minutes or until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool about 30 minutes, serve, and enjoy!
Note: I usually serve these with a roasted garlic or garlic and rosemary compound butter. These also work nicely as individual rolls.
And now for a simpler loaf…
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plus extra if needed
1. Preheat oven to 425°F and lightly flour a baking sheet.
2. Mix flour, baking soda and salt well in a large bowl. Mix in only enough buttermilk to form moist clumps.
3. Gather dough into ball. Turn out onto lightly flour surfaced and knead lightly just until dough holds together (about 1 minute). Shape dough into 6″ round (about 2″ high) and place on prepared baking sheet. Cut 1-inch-deep X across top of bread.
4. Bake about 35 minutes or until bread is golden brown. Transfer bread to rack and cool before serving.
Note: Again, I like to serve this with a compound butter. Also works nicely for breakfast with jam or with a hearty soup. If you’re worried the bread’s not done, tap it before removing from the oven. The bread should sound hollow. If you want to add a little sweetness, add about a tbsp of honey before mixing.
Want to make soda bread but don’t want to make it from scratch? Try Hogan’s Irish Brown Soda Bread Mix or Katie Reilly’s Irish Soda Bread Mix. No time to order these? You can probably find Bob’s Red Mill Irish Soda Bread Mix in your grocery store at home.
Finally, while it’s not soda bread, I insist everyone must try the Guinness Bread Mix. It requires some extra work and ingredients, but it leaves you with a dense, delicious, raisin-studded brown bread with a complex maltiness imparted by the Guinness. More akin to a muffin than anything, it’s delicious for breakfast with something like butter or cream cheese. Just grab a Guinness and yell Sláinte!