It’s too bad that we only make Irish Soda Bread for St. Paddy’s day and tend to forget it the rest of the year. Similar to making biscuits, you can whip soda bread together in very little time and have it hot at the table, spread with butter melting into it.
Ireland didn’t have a strong yeast bread tradition in the 1800s when chemical leavens like baking soda and eventually baking powder were developed. The Irish had stronger flatbread customs: like oat bannocks, or oat and potato mixed flatbreads, baked on griddles hung over a fire. Soda breads baked well in cast iron pots much like Dutch ovens with coals or fire beneath, and coals or hot turf sods on the lids.
A daily loaf of soda bread simply contained flour, buttermilk and baking soda. Buttermilk is sour and reacts with the baking soda to provide the rising. Most modern soda breads though are enriched with butter, egg and sugar, and contain raisins or currants, or caraway.
What you’ll find below is a basic butter and egg-enriched soda bread, adapted from a very old “Joy of Cooking.” If you want a sweeter bread, add the optional sugar, perhaps even more of it, up to two tablespoons, and choose raisins or currants, or caraway.
When to eat soda bread? First off, as soon as the bread comes hot out of the oven. At breakfast with butter and marmalade. Late morning with coffee. At lunch with some cheddar cheese and soup. At tea time in the afternoon with more butter and jam or jelly. At supper on March 17 with Irish stew or shepherd’s pie.
Irish Soda Bread
Yields one 8-inch loaf.
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon light brown sugar, optional
¼ cup or ½ stick of cold butter
½ cup currants or raisins, optional
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, optional
1 egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8-inch round pan.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and optional sugar in a large bowl.
Cut or rub in the butter until it looks like coarse cornmeal, or process the butter and dry ingredients together briefly in a food processor.
Toss in the optional currants or raisins and/or caraway.
Make a well in the flour and butter mixture and add the egg and buttermilk. Stir them together quickly so the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Knead the dough lightly in the bowl and turn into the greased pan, pressing the dough to the edges.
Slash a cross in the top to allow expansion, brush the top with milk or cream and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until it is golden.