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Soda Bread Recipe

Soda Bread Recipe
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Studded with raisins and caraway seeds, soda bread needs just a bit of butter.
Photo/Art by Heath Robbins
Studded with raisins and caraway seeds, soda bread needs just a bit of butter.

VIDEO: How to make Irish Soda Bread

As any leprechaun will tell you, the key to good soda bread is to avoid overworking either yourself or the dough in the process. Kind of like a giant scone or biscuit, soda bread is easy and quick to make, as long as you observe some commonsense guidelines.

Whether you’re starting with dough or batter, gluten, the protein in flour (activated by liquid), gives all baked goods their structure. With yeast breads, you have to work the gluten into long strands, via kneading, so that hot air can get in between them. With cakes, muffins, and “quick” breads such as soda bread, however, it’s important to mix the ingredients just until they’re combined and holding together.

Traditional Irish soda bread is made from only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and sour milk or buttermilk, which activates the baking soda and adds a tang that masks soda’s natural bitterness. This adapted recipe uses just a wee bit of baking soda and a tablespoon of baking powder, for lightness. Raisins, caraway seeds, egg, and a bit of sugar are flavorful extras.

We’re pretty sure that Europeans learned the technique of leavening with carbonates instead of yeast from Native Americans, who added ash from wood fires to their doughs. In Ireland, soda bread has been a staple since the 1840s, when commercial baking soda was introduced there as a leavening agent for the country’s “soft” (low-protein) wheat flours. Here in the States, it’s become a cherished St. Paddy’s Day tradition, whatever your ethnic heritage.

Kitchen Chemistry

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient, it quickly produces carbon dioxide bubbles, which expand when heated, causing baked goods to rise. Be careful to use only recommended amounts, however, to avoid leaving a salty, bitter taste behind.

Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate with cream of tartar (a potassium acid salt) and cornstarch (which keeps things dry). It has a bit more staying power than baking soda and has a more neutral taste. One more quick-bread tip: Don’t overbake your loaf, which will dry it out, but be careful not to underbake; you don’t want it to come out doughy and uncooked in the middle, either.


Updated Thursday, February 19th, 2009

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6 Responses to Soda Bread Recipe

  1. Scott Andrews March 11, 2009 at 6:19 am #

    In honor of St. Patty, I was hoping to find a recipe for ‘Scotch ‘n Soda Bread’ – anybody have one?

  2. Dave Williams January 8, 2010 at 8:45 am #
    Looks like the only requirement to call it “whiskey soda bread” is to soak raisins in booze, and add to your favorite soda bread recipe.

    How about Viking Soda Bread? Soak currants in aquavit, and add caraway seeds to the batter.

  3. Carole Joyce February 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    I made Annie’s Irish soda bread and it was delicious! Simple to make. I have traveled to Ireland many, many times and have numerous recipes for Soda Bread, Annie’s has now become one of my favorites. I make my own strawberry/crushed pineapple jam and serve it with warm buttered soda bread and it is to die for! You don’t have to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to make Soda Bread, I serve it all year round with tea or coffee when friends drop in!

  4. Edythe Craig February 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    I have 3 recipies for Soda Bread and never remember the best one. I appreciate some of the tips she has given and I want to add it to my collection

  5. Laurie Lufkin March 3, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I just decided that I am making this today! I have golden raisins and I think they will be delicious! Might just have to soak them in some whiskey…..

  6. Pearl McDoannell March 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    The real Irish Soda Bread recipe my mother brought from Ireland has no eggs, 3/4 c. butter, 1 1/2 cup buttermilk, 4 cups flour and the same for everything else. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes and then 350 for 45 minutes, preferably in an iron skillet. I have used the small aluminum pans you buy at the grocery store and it makes 4 of those. Freezes well, although I make it at least once or twice a month for my family. Eggs were available on the farm, but they were too precious use in bread – but extra butter and buttermilk does the trick.

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