Traditional Irish Soda Bread Recipe
St. Patrick’s Day is a grand occasion not only for Americans of Irish descent. This religious celebration is now being celebrated by all Americans regardless of their heritage. And St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be complete without the popular Irish food staples such as cabbage, corned beef, and of course, Irish soda bread.
What is Irish Soda Bread?
Contrary to popular belief, the Irish soda bread recipe was not invented in Ireland. The earliest record of using soda ash in baking bread was from American Indians who used it to leaven their bread. Before the 19th century, pearl ash was used in the creation of flat cakes on hot rocks through the process of mixing an acidic ingredient in the dough.
Soda bread started to be connected with the Irish in the early part of the 19th century. Irish men and women lived in a state of poverty that most can only afford to make soda bread for daily sustenance. One of the earlier recipes of Irish soda bread was from 1836.
It was also around this time that soda bread became a popular leavening agent in Ireland. Bicarbonate soda or bread soda made it possible for bakers to work with the soft wheat grown in Ireland’s local climate.
According to The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, the earliest soda bread recipe published in US papers claimed that “there is no bread to be had equal to it for invigorating the body, promoting digestion, strengthening the stomach, and improving the state of the bowels.” As mentioned earlier, the impoverished Irish people did not perceive soda bread as a tasty pastry, but a source of sustenance.
Since the publication of the authentic Irish soda bread recipe, making this type of bread became a part of daily life for most Irish people. Bread soda ingredients were rather inexpensive and easy to make. They are non-perishable which means that families with open hearths in their kitchens can make soda bread to sustain their basic nutritional needs.
Buttermilk, a by-product of making butter, and soft wheat became two key ingredients in baking soda bread. Traditionally, this bread was cooked on a griddle or a cast-iron pot with a lid. The baking equipment was then placed into coals or a turf fire.
Why is There a Cross on Top of Irish Soda Bread?
Before baking, a cross is usually made on top of the soda bread loaf. A sharp knife is traditionally used to cut a cross shape as this was believed to ward off the devil and as a form of protection for the household, too.
When we talk about practicality, a cross or cruciform is made on top of the bread dough to facilitate the penetration of heat into the thickest portion of the bread. Slashing the top of the dough also allows the bread to expand and stretch as it rises during the baking process.
How to Make Irish Soda Bread
At present, there are many variations of the Irish soda bread recipe. Some prefer to add caraway seeds, while some are big fans of Irish soda bread with raisins.Irish soda bread can be simple with only its basic ingredients, while there are recipes that include different non-traditional ingredients.
You may be wondering what ingredients should be used to make the best Irish soda bread recipe. The answer is quite subjective since we all have different tastes when it comes to food. For an Irish soda bread to be called as such, it should contain the following key ingredients:
- Baking soda
Buttermilk is an important ingredient as it facilitates the bread’s leavening. The leavening effect from combining buttermilk and baking soda is what gave the bread its name in the first place.
Is it possible to create an Irish soda bread recipe without buttermilk? If buttermilk is unavailable or if you simply do not like the taste of buttermilk, you may substitute with the following ingredients:
- Milk + Sour cream
- Water + powdered buttermilk
- Milk + Yogurt
- Milk + Cream of tartar
- Milk + Vinegar/ Lemon juice
Now that you have everything that you need to know about the history of Irish soda bread and its basic ingredients, we now proceed to give you a quick and simple Sweet Irish soda bread recipe that you can make for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
Here are the ingredients you need:
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ½ cups buttermilk
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons caraway seeds
- 2 ½ cup light and dark raisins
- Turbinado sugar
Here is what you need to do:
- You first need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Brush the pan with generous amounts of butter. For a standard-sized load, you may use 9×5-inch bread pans.
- Soak the raisins in not water for 15 minutes and then drain well.
- In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients first: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
- Cut the butter in smaller cubes and then mix with the dry ingredients. Use your hands in mixing until the mixture becomes grainy.
- Add the raisins and caraway seeds.
- Now add the wet ingredients: buttermilk and egg to the mixture then stir well. The dough should look and feel like a thick cake batter.
- Fill the load pan with the dough then finish off by sprinkling Turbinado sugar on top.
- Bake for 60 minutes. To check if the bread is done, use a toothpick. The toothpick should be dry and without any morsels when it’s properly baked.
- Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Once cool, you may then serve the freshly-baked bread with butter, jam, and poached eggs on top. Irish soda bread with thicker crusts is a great accompaniment to soups and stews, too.