Soda bread is an easy bread that gets its name from the baking soda that does all of the leavening in the recipe. The texture of this bread is different from yeasted bread and much more like a scone. This is such a great quick bread to throw together to serve with a stew or soup.

Baked Irish soda bread

Overview

Soda bread is a very easy type of bread that is made with baking soda as the leavening agent instead of yeast. The traditional bread consists of only flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. This modern version also includes butter, which is cut into the flour mixture, to add more tenderness and richness to the bread.

Buttermilk is a key ingredient in soda bread due to its acidic properties. The lactic acid present in buttermilk reacts with the alkaline properties of the baking soda to create carbon dioxide, rising the bread.

Irish Soda bread sliced with butter

History of Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread first came to be in the early 1800s when baking soda first became available in Ireland. Most flour available in Ireland at the time was made from soft wheat (meaning it had a low protein content). Soft wheat does not work well to make yeast breads, but it works beautifully for chemically leavened bread.

Soda bread gained huge popularity during the potato famine, which started in 1845. Due to the lack of potatoes, which were a major food source in Ireland, soda bread became an easy, inexpensive, and filling staple on the Irish table.

Everyday Irish soda bread, like this one, was very simple without any add-ins. Versions of soda bread that include dried fruit, nuts, or other additional ingredients were only made for celebrations. However, this base recipe can easily be the template for endless soda bread variations.

Tips & Techniques

  • After the dough is mixed, you will pour it out onto the countertop and knead it a few times until you have a cohesive dough. After forming it into a thick round mass, you will slash the top of it with an “X” using a knife. This gives it the classic soda bread look.
  • The texture of this bread is a bit like a scone. It is best eaten the same day it is made, however, leftovers can be toasted to refresh them for a few days after.
  • This recipe can be used as a base recipe to create different flavor variations. Sugar and currants could be added to create a traditional tea cake style soda bread that is served at celebrations. You could also add fresh herbs or cheese to make a savory variation.
Baked Irish soda bread in dutch oven
Yield: 8 Servings

Soda Bread Recipe

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Soda bread is an easy bread that gets its name from the baking soda that does all of the leavening in the recipe. This is such a great quick bread to throw together to serve with a stew or soup!

Ingredients

  • 360 grams (3 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher salt
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda
  • 50 grams (¼ cup) granulated sugar, optional
  • 56 grams (4 tablespoons, ½ stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 320 grams (1 ⅓ cups, 320 milliliters) buttermilk, cold

Instructions

Prep:

  1. Position the oven rack to the center position. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). 
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Measure out your ingredients. 

To Make the Bread:

  1. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the all-purpose flour (360 grams, 3 cups), salt (5 grams, 1 teaspoon), baking soda (5 grams, 1 teaspoon), and sugar (if using- 50 grams, ¼ cup).
  2. Add the cold butter (56 grams, 4 tablespoons) to the bowl and cut through the flour mixture. To do this, press down on the fat with the wires of the pastry blender or the tines of a fork as you move it around the bowl. Continue cutting the fat into the flour until it is all about the size of pebbles and the mixture looks like a coarse meal. 
  3. Add the cold buttermilk (320 grams, 1 ⅓ cup) and stir using a rubber spatula to stir until a soft dough forms. 
  4. Liberally flour a work surface and transfer the dough to it. Flour the top of the dough and your hands. Gather it together into one mass. 
  5. Knead the dough gently a few times by pushing it forward with the heals of your hands and then bringing it back toward you and folding it over itself until you have a more cohesive dough. Only spend about 30 seconds on this to not overwork the gluten. 
  6. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and shape it into a disk that is about 2.5-inches (6 cm) thick. 
  7. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep X across the dough, going almost all the way through to the pan. 
  8. Bake at 425°F/220°C for 26-30 minutes, until deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center. 
  9. Brush melted butter over the top if desired. 
  10. Soda bread is best eaten warm from the oven. However, leftover bread can be wrapped in foil or plastic wrap once cooled and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. Refresh in the oven for a few minutes to re-warm. 

Notes

Flavor Variation Ideas

  • “Brown Bread” Soda Bread: Reduce the all-purpose flour to 180 grams (1 ½ cups) and add 150 grams (1 ¼ cups) whole wheat flour. Toss 50 grams (½ cup) rolled oats in the flour/butter mixture before adding in the buttermilk. Brush the top with a bit of buttermilk and sprinkle with a few more oats before baking. 
  • Currant and Caraway (this is a very traditional Irish combination): Use the sugar in the recipe. Stir in 1 tablespoon caraway seeds and 150 grams (1 cup) of currants (or raisins) before adding in the buttermilk.

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