Irish Soda Bread is actually a broad term for a lot of different types of bread made in Ireland. The Irish used bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) rather than yeast as the leavening agent for their breads, thus it became known as soda bread. There are basic recipes that can be added to and modified to make all sorts of fancy breads with nuts or fruit, or just a basic hearty, healthy bread. A basic recipe for Irish Soda Bread is below.
Being from the American South, I was raised on cooking with buttermilk and in iron skillets. I’m pretty sure that Southern traditional method of cooking came from our Irish ancestors. That would seem the case when looking at how the Irish cook soda bread. Even though you can use other liquids, buttermilk is what is recommended. And even though there are several methods of cooking the bread, cooking it in an iron skillet is the preferred method.
The basic bread recipe is below. You can use different types of liquids, flour and add fruits or nuts to make it as different as you want to make it.
- 3 1/2 cups flour (either cake flour or all-purpose)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional: I prefer it without the sugar)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- Between 8-10 fluid ounces milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put large cast iron skillet into oven to preheat.
Sift all dry ingredients together. Put dry ingredients into large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour a portion (about 3/4s) of the buttermilk (or whatever other liquid you are using) into the well.
The texture you are trying to achieve is very soft and squishy. Its okay for there to be lumps as long as they look dry and floury and are very squishy when you poke them.
Blending the dry ingredients with the liquid should be done quickly. When you feel you have a good consistency, then turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead. Don’t over-knead! You shouldn’t knead more than 15 seconds to a minute. You are just mixing the ingredients, not trying to get a smooth ball of dough. Its okay if its sticky. The more you knead, the tougher the bread will be. The less you handle the dough, the better your loaf will be.
Mold the dough into a domed circle (remembering to handle it as little as possible). Place it in the lightly floured, hot cast iron skillet. Using a very sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of the circle of dough. The cuts should go about halfway down through the sides of the circle of dough. This allows the dough of expand properly.
Place the bread into the preheated oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook another 35 minutes.
If you want a softer crust, then wrap the cake in a clean cloth while it is still hot. For a crunchy crust, put it on a rack to cool.
Note: There are lots of variations that can be added to make this bead fit for about any occasion. Adding nuts, raisins, peppers, cheese, chocolate or fruit are just a few of the optional modifications.