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Our Best Recipe for Irish Soda Bread

This recipe for traditional soda bread delivers authentic Irish flavor, a beautifully craggy crust, and a tender crumb

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Photograph by Olga Ivanova

The Irish have given America so much: the plays of Samuel Beckett, the poetry of William Butler Yeats, tales of Grace O’ Malley, the Irish Pirate Queen — plus the songs of U2, some of our best pubs (and toasts), and this: Irish Soda Bread. A glorious, full-sized loaf of barely sweet bread that looks like a craggy Connemara mountaintop studded with currants — and if you don't have currants, dried cranberries or other dried fruit work just fine. This loaf boasts a delicate crumb, a crisp, crunchy, golden-brown crust — and all without waiting hours for it to rise. No yeast (or heavy-duty kneading) required! Buttermilk provides this bread’s complexity, and baking soda gives it a quick lift so you can pop it in the oven about a half-hour after you grab the mixing bowl.  


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Featured recipe: Irish Soda Bread >>

Bake for success: Tips to master Irish Soda Bread >>

Recipes to serve with Irish Soda Bread >>





Bake for success: Tips to master Irish Soda Bread

Read these handy tips before you get started


A better butter method

This traditional Irish soda bread recipe is beautifully streamlined: It uses the clever technique of grating the butter directly into the dry ingredients using the large holes of a box grater. This speeds the process and ensures an even distribution of fat throughout the loaf. However, it only works if your butter is very cold, otherwise you mainly moisturize your hands and the side of the grater. You’re best off using a half-stick of butter pulled directly from the freezer (where it’s smart to store it anyway; learn more here), and peeling the wrapper off like a banana as you go. Holding it by the wrapper prevents slipping, as even with frozen butter the last tablespoon will get soft in your hand. And don’t forget to fish out the little curls that stick inside the grater!

Get the devil out!

All Irish soda bread calls for slashing a cross on top of the loaf with a sharp knife just before it goes in the oven. This allows the leavening to do its job and let the dough rise as high as it can go as it bakes, thus preventing a dense and heavy bread. But Irish lore says it also helps to scare the devil away, or alternatively, lets the "mischief fairies" out. Either way, it’s not the worst result if you’ve got a night of partying ahead.

Knock, knock, knocking on soda bread’s door … 

A cooked loaf of bread should sound hollow when tapped. But what does that actually sound like? Ponder a knock on a poorly made door — not a sturdy old one, but one made of particleboard. You can practically measure the space inside by its empty sound. A finished loaf of Irish soda bread sounds about half as hollow as that door — you can hear the airy space created by the baking soda, but with a bit more fullness. 

You’re best off tapping the bottom of the loaf, but that can be unwieldy, especially if this is your first time — at the 40-minute mark, take the entire loaf out of the oven, close the oven door, and use a spatula to slowly lift the loaf off the bottom of your cast iron skillet. At a 65° angle you should be able to tap from underneath without tipping it over or burning your fingers. My oven required the full 45 minutes total time for baking. 

And be sure to follow the most frustrating part of the recipe: waiting an hour for it to cool! The bread will still be warm inside when finally you slice yourself a piece, and the extra time allows any slightly undercooked parts to finish off before the heat is released. That way your bread will be yummy instead of gummy.

The end of the loaf is in the beginning, and yet you eat on 

Irish writer Samuel Beckett’s plays are full of bittersweet dialogue (like the bastardized line above!), but they align here too: Even your best-baked loaf of Irish soda bread is here for but an instant, and then is gone forever. And yet we boldly take the first slice anyway, for what other choice do we have?

To make your bread last, only cut slices as you plan to eat them, and store your beautiful round loaf in a sealed container at room temperature for three to four days (if you don’t polish it off the first day, that is). If you somehow end up with slightly stale leftovers, this soda bread is an ideal candidate for a quick bread pudding or French toast. Its delightfully crisp exterior manages to hold onto a little crunch, and the slight sweetness of the currants adds nuance to any final dish.  



Recipes to serve with Irish Soda Bread

Our easy recipe for soda bread is delicious on its own — and sings with a little Irish butter on top and a cup of tea with milk — but like your favorite night out, it’s best served with some tasty friends. So have some good craic (Irish for “fun”)! The recipes below pair perfectly with our soda bread recipe; make some or all, and have a great time this St. Patrick's Day and beyond. Erin go Bragh!


Chocolate Stout and Cold Brewed Coffee

This incredibly smooth and malty cocktail has just a hint of bitterness, the perfect accompaniment to a toasted slice of Irish soda bread that’s been slathered with butter. Just as some brownie recipes call for a spoonful of espresso powder to bring out chocolate’s nuances, so the smoothness of the cold brew helps the chocolate stout to pop. Alongside this nearly sweet soda bread, it tastes like a sweet Irish ballad.   

 

A (Nearly) Irish Breakfast

This recipe gets quite close to an Irish breakfast, and once you rise from the table you’ll be ready to plow a field, herd some sheep, or climb a mossy mountain — with energy to spare. In Ireland, this also includes black and white pudding: two little round oatcakes, one left plain and a darker one colored with blood, but they’re not popular here. Buy the thickest cut of bacon at the store, or “back bacon” if you can find it — an Irish rasher of bacon is thickly sliced, comes from the loin and is almost ham-like. But with a steaming pot of Irish breakfast tea and slices of your homemade bread toasted in the pan with some butter, you’ll have made your own luck of the Irish.  


Guinness Irish Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon

This grilled cheese sandwich is a masterpiece of flavors and textures, using two slices of Irish soda bread to truly gild the lily. The bacon is caramelized with brown sugar and Guinness, and also used in a sweet mustard-jam mixture; melted together with an Irish cheddar, you’ve got an excellent excuse to bake this delicious quick bread all year ‘round. 


Corned Beef and Cabbage Egg Rolls

This hot and crunchy appetizer can be found on many an Irish-American pub’s bar menu these days, and fits perfectly down the table from your sliced Irish soda bread as part of your St. Patty’s Day spread. Sliced in half on the diagonal, the recipe makes a dozen pieces. (It also comes together quicker than a leprechaun’s laugh with corned beef and cabbage leftovers the day after.)


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Read on for more baking and cooking ideas, including what to do with your leftover buttermilk after you make the soda bread!


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