As St Paddy’s Day approaches, our thoughts often turn to irish foods and traditions. Soda bread is a quick bread traditionally made in a variety of cuisines in which sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as “baking soda”, or in Ireland, “bread soda”) is used as a leavening agent instead of the traditional yeast. The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide.
According to The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (I’m not joking…), “All recipes for traditional soda bread contain flour, baking soda, sour milk (buttermilk) and salt. That’s it!!! This was a daily bread that didn’t keep long and had to be baked every few days. It was not a festive “cake” and did not contain whisky, candied fruit, caraway seeds, raisins (add raisins and it becomes “spotted dog” not to be confused with the pudding made with suet of the same name), or any other ingredient.” The bread was traditionally baked in a cast iron skillet.
The Americanized version of soda bread that many of us are familiar with often contains sugar, raisins or currants, citrus zest, even butter. Back in the early 1800’s, when it was introduced, soda bread was a poor man’s bread and would not have been made with those relatively luxurious ingredients.
The cross on the soda bread has several explanations, Legend has it that folks did it to bless the bread and to “let the devil out” while it’s baking for good luck, and others say that it made it easy to divide into 4 pieces. It was also a symbol for a cross during Christian holidays. It also allows the heat to permeate the thickest part of the loaf, allowing for more even baking. (This recipe from Tish Boyle Sweet Dreams)
Irish Soda BreadCourse: BreadsCuisine: Irish, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Soda bread is a quick bread traditionally made in a variety of cuisines in which sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as “baking soda”, or in Ireland, “bread soda”) is used as a leavening agent instead of the traditional yeast.
2 1/3 cups (323 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (185 g) cake flour * (see notes)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark raisins
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cups buttermilk ** (see notes)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Prepare a baking sheet by spraying it lightly with cooking spray or lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Sift the flours, baking soda, sugar, and salt together into a large bowl. Add the raisins and caraway seeds and make a well in the center.
- Add the melted butter and buttermilk to the well and gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones until a dough forms.
- Gently knead the dough with your hands a few times and shape it into a large ball with a taut top (don’t handle the dough too much – the more you handle it, the tougher it gets).
- Place the dough on the baking sheet and flatten it slightly. To make the cross on top, use a sharp, serrated knife the make a cut about 1 to 1-12 inch deep.
- Sprinkle the top of the loaf with some flour and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Wrap the bread in a tea towel when it comes out of the oven. Cool in the tea towel set on a wire rack.
- * To make your own “cake flour”: Measure and add 1 cup all-purpose flour to a mixing bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of flour. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl. Mix to sift together the cornstarch and flour mixture. Use as needed in your recipe.
- ** To make your own ‘buttermilk”: Mix 1 T white vinegar or fresh lemon juice to 1 cup whole milk. Stir and allow to sit for 10 – 15 minutes. Use as needed in your recipe. If you need more than a cup, just keep the ratios the same. For two cups, use two cups of milk and two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar.
- This bread is best eaten the day it’s made but can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap then aluminum foil and frozen for up to 2 months.