A Long Time Favorite

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to revisit my favorite recipe for Irish Soda Bread. Like all of the other Irish breads I’ve made, it’s leavened with baking soda and buttermilk rather than yeast.

Yeast-raised breads typically require both kneading and time to rise. Soda breads, on the other hand, can often be mixed by hand in a single bowl. They don’t “keep” as well as yeast-raised breads, but they’re usually  eaten so quickly that leftovers are rarely a problem. On the rare occasions when there are leftovers, I wrap the bread securely and either serve it for breakfast or else pop it in the freezer.

Whatever the scenario, I always serve the bread warm. It can be eaten plain or spread with butter and/or jelly. The boiled cider jelly from Wood’s Cider Mill works especially well.

The following recipe for Irish Buttermilk Soda Bread is from “Prairie Home Breads” by Judith M Fertig  (The Harvard Common Press, $18.95)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 raisins (preferably golden) plumped in warm water and drained

2 large eggs, beaten

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and set aside. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl, and stir in the raisins.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, buttermilk, and butter together with a wooden spoon, then stir in the dry ingredients.
  3. Spoon the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until puffed and browned. Carefully transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool.


Margaret M. Johnson has written four excellent books about Irish cuisine. In “Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools”(Chronicle Books, $24.95), she writes, “ Because buttermilk is naturally high in acid, it reacts well with baking soda or baking powder-both are an alkali-to generate the carbon dioxide that causes bread to rise. It also acts as a natural emulsifier in baking soda bread, dispersing the fat throughout the baked product while its proteins react to sugar and contribute to browning.

Because I don’t cook with buttermilk that often, I always have dried buttermilk  on hand. Once it’s opened, it has to be refrigerated.

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