In Ireland, we are extremely fortunate to have access to some of the best produce in the world, from butter to eggs to oats and much more. I was very lucky to have an incredible mum who showed me how to cook. She made everything from scratch every day. For a family of seven, that’s pretty incredible.
My mum says one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to teach them how to cook. This is one of the main reasons why I’m here today. With my mum’s permission, I’m allowed to share her recipe for traditional Irish soda bread with you.
Traditional Irish soda bread has a particular look, but do you know what it is? The marking on top is a cross. It comes from blessing the bread before baking. You also poke a hole in each corner of the loaf to release the fairies that can curse your bread if not set free!
This bread is made in homes every day all over Ireland. It has a beautiful crust, a closed crumb, and a lovely wheat flavor. Irish soda bread doesn’t require yeast or any resting, so it is incredibly fast to whip up. The faster you make it, the better the bread will be. It is what’s considered a quick bread.
A Note About Buttermilk
Buttermilk is a must in this recipe and can’t be left out. The main reason is that the buttermilk chemically reacts with the baking soda to make the bread rise. The buttermilk adds lovely flavor to your bread. Some people worry about tasting the acid, but once it’s baked, you can’t taste it at all.
If you can’t buy buttermilk, the next best thing to do is to make it (see recipe note).
Tips for a Perfect Loaf of Soda Bread
Start out with a large bowl so you have space to mix your dough, which will reduce the chances of you over-mixing and toughening your bread.
Always level your teaspoon of baking soda before adding it to the rest of your ingredients. There are two very good reasons for this that can make or break your bread:
- Too much baking soda will tint your bread green! Seriously, it gives your bread a greenish hue on the inside. Worse than that,
- Too much baking soda can give your bread a very unpleasant taste, so remember that less is more.
For the whole wheat flour, I like to keep mine fresh in the freezer because I don’t use it as often as white flour. The oils in the flour can turn rancid over time, so just freeze it and use it when you need it.
For a beautiful, crispy crust, refrain from opening the door while baking. I know how tempting it is, but believe me, your bread won’t burn. It’s not going anywhere, and it will be worth it when you take out a beautiful loaf of bread with a thick crust.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread (Brown Bread)
Makes one loaf
- 1 3/4 cups (9 ounces) whole wheat flour (fine or coarsely ground)
- 1 3/4 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, cold
- 1 egg
- 1 2/3 cups buttermilk (see Note for a substitute)
- 1 tablespoon rolled oats
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Mix together the flours, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles bread crumbs.
In a separate jug, whisk the egg and buttermilk together.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour 3/4 of the liquid mixture into the flour mixture. Using an open hand, bring the flour and liquid together into a loose dough. The dough should be quite soft, but not too sticky. You will know then if it needs more of the liquid mixture. (Flour in different places reacts differently to added liquid.)
Turn dough onto a floured work surface and gently bring it together into a round about 1 1/2 inches thick and 8 inches across.
Place on a baking sheet dusted well with flour. Score the bread by blessing it with a deep cross on top. Poke a hole in each of the corners of the dough to release the fairies and stop them from cursing your beautiful bread. Glaze the bread with the leftover bit of buttermilk mixture in your jug and dust the top with rolled oats.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes more. When done, the loaf will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool.
Note: For every cup of buttermilk needed, mix 1 cup of regular milk with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar. Mix and let it stand for a minimum of 30 minutes before using.
Gemma Stafford is an Irish-born professional chef, cookbook author, and host of the top online baking show, “Bigger Bolder Baking.” She connects with her millions of fans on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and more than 1,000 of her recipes, tips, and techniques can be found at BiggerBolderBaking.com. This article was excerpted with permission from BiggerBolderBaking.com