How to Make Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

irish soda bread

Baking soda gives traditional Irish soda bread its “lift.”

Irish soda bread is workingman’s food. Soda bread relies on sodium bicarbonate to leaven the bread instead of yeast, and in the mid-1800s, it was a revelation in Ireland. Although bread was, of course, nothing new, poor wheat quality meant the flour it produced did not rise well using yeast. The development of bicarbonate of soda solved the problem easily and, soon, quick bread using just flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk became a dinnertime staple.

Having more in common with biscuits than yeast bread, it requires no time to rise (unlike yeast bread) and is actually better if the kneading is kept to a minimum, meaning it can be made quickly and without fanfare. It is the perfect companion for Irish stew or enjoyed toasted and slathered with butter or jam.

Irish soda bread is a good idea any old time, but it’s never more appropriate than St. Patrick’s Day. The traditional variation we’re making here, known as “Spotted Dog,” will be on my table alongside corned beef and cabbage and perhaps a good Irish stout. Expanding on the original four ingredients, spotted dog adds egg and sugar, giving it a thicker crust, and caraway seeds and raisins for flavor.

If you are a fan of scones or buttermilk biscuits, this St. Pat’s favorite will be right up your alley. Although some feel the additional ingredients in spotted dog mean it isn’t “true” Irish soda bread, it is part of the accepted traditions associated with the holiday (no scofflaws, we). Also? Not for nothing, it tastes great! Follow the simple steps below to make your own.

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Step 1

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This “Spotted Dog” variation of traditional Irish soda bread is quick and easy-to-make,  requiring less than 10 minutes of work and 50 minutes to bake. Start by combining 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds in a large bowl.

 

Step 2

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Cut 4 tablespoons of butter into the bowl and use a pastry cutter or a fork to work into the flour until a coarse meal forms.

 

Step 3

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Form a well in the middle of the mix and pour in buttermilk and egg. For those accustomed to making biscuits, the process of making soda bread is very similar. DIY bonus tip: If you get this far and realize you don’t have any buttermilk on hand (as I did), you can quickly make your own by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and allowing it to rest 5 minutes.

Step 4

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Add raisins, stir and then work the mix with your hands to combine just until dough comes together. Do not overwork the dough.

Step 5

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Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased cast iron skillet or cake pan. The dough should be sticky and a little shaggy, but will hold together.

Step 6

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Use a long serrated knife to cut a shallow X  into the top of dough. Although some believe the cross has significance as a religious cross or to cast out the devil, the purpose is a little more practical. The X will allow the bread to rise and cook evenly.

Step 7

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Bake the bread in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes until it is browned and sounds hollow when thumped. Once removed from oven, allow to rest 10 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting (any sooner and it may break apart).

Materials

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup raisins

Tools

  • Mixing bowl
  • Pasty cutter or fork
  • Cast iron skillet or cake pan
About Mick Telkamp 

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A former Midwesterner living in North Carolina, I write about my adventures in backyard chicken-keeping and suburban homesteading over at HGTVGardens, and my exploits in the culture of Southern cooking ...

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