Soda bread is a staple food in Irish cuisine. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation, and while there are many variations, they are mostly comprised of flour, baking soda (known in Ireland as “bread soda), salt, and buttermilk. Sultanas (raisins) and treacle (molasses) may be added as a special treat (this version is known as spotted dog), but the plain version is most common – accompanying soups and stews, or served with butter and jam for breakfast or teatime. Ireland’s domestic flours were typically made from soft wheat, which doesn’t form enough gluten during the mixing process to rise sufficiently when leavened with yeast. When baking soda was introduced to Ireland in the early 1800’s, it quickly gained popularity as an alternative bread leavening (note that Native Americans had been using naturally occurring soda ash to leaven bread long before European colonization – it’s a bit fuzzy whether the method was brought back to Ireland from America, or if Irish chemists discovered it on their own).
How to Make Soda Bread
Soda bread is delightfully quick and easy to make. Because it relies on baking soda rather than yeast for leavening, there is no kneading or rising necessary. In fact, your aim is to work the dough as little as possible in order to keep the bread tender. Though it’s not entirely traditional, I like to rub a bit of butter into the dry ingredients before stirring in the buttermilk, which results in a slightly less dense loaf. Once mixed, you pat the dough into a 1.5” thick round and cut a cross into the top of the dough (from edge to edge). Depending on who you talk to, the cross is meant to “let the fairies out” or ward off the devil. On a more practical level, it allows heat to penetrate the thickest part of the bread and for it to rise without cracking.
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What to Eat with Soda Bread
Soda bread is appropriate at any time of the day! It’s perfect at breakfast time with preserves or butter (especially cultured Irish butter), delicious at lunch with a bit of cheese (preferably an Irish cheddar), and tasty dunked into a potato leek soup or a Guinness and beef stew.
Irish Soda Bread Recipe
350 grams (about 2 ¾ cups) all purpose flour
100 (about ¾ cups) grams wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, and kosher salt. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until no chunks of butter remain and flour becomes slightly mealy. Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in 1 ½ cups of buttermilk. Using your hand or a wooden spoon, incorporate the flour from the sides of the bowl into the buttermilk in the center. If dry spots remain, add additional buttermilk until a soft, sticky dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and pat into a 1 ½ inch thick circle. Transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet and cut a cross into the top of the bread (slice all the way from one side to the other).
Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. Tap the top of the bread – if it sounds hollow, it’s done! Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
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Chelsea is one third of the Euro Travel Coach team (and is the daughter of the other two thirds of the team, Greg and Betsy). She has a passion for food and wine and has a background in hospitality. She attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and interned with two of New York City’s best restaurant groups while she was in school. After graduation she worked at the number one wine auction house in the United States, Chicago’s Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. There, she organized various wine centric events for HDH’s most valuable clients. She and her husband moved to Copenhagen, Denmark in 2016 and then to Bristol, UK in 2018 and have traveled extensively during their time living in Europe. Her expertise in food and wine and her experience living abroad helps her to find amazing accommodations, delicious restaurants, and unique experiences for Euro Travel Coach clients.
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