My father’s family is primarily a mix of Scottish and Irish heritage that dates back to Colonial America at least as far back as the 1600s. By now our connection to much of the traditions of these two cultures is pretty much gone.
One thing hasn’t been lost, though, and that is the recognition that traditional foods, no matter where they are from or how basic they are, have the ability to satisfy body and soul. Even recipes with a history of meager means can turn out to be some of the most tasty treats the whole family looks forward to. Irish soda bread is one of those foods.
Historically, soda bread came into existence right about the time of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland in the mid 1800s. It was a means of feeding a family with inexpensive ingredients during a time when there wasn’t much else. One would think that something like this would be quickly forgotten under better circumstances, but why ditch a good thing? Despite it’s really basic ingredient list, this is a really good bread!
It’s flavor is almost reminiscent of cornbread and is perfect served with a smear of butter. Serve it alongside dinner, top it with a dab of marmalade or honey for breakfast, or just nibble on it whenever you feel like it. It is best warm and fresh, but since it is quick to make, that’s not a problem!
(Mostly) Traditional Irish Soda Bread Recipe
- 4 c. all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 2 Tbsp. + 1 Tbsp. melted salted butter
Preheat the oven to 375° F.
In a large bowl put all the dry ingredients. I measure flour by whisking it to fluff it up, then scoop the flour into the measuring cup. Whisk all the dry ingredients together until completely combined.
Add the 2 Tbsp. melted butter to the buttermilk*, then pour it all into the dry ingredients. Mix everything together by hand just until combined. Lightly knead the dough in the bowl, but only a little bit. You want the dough to be able to hold together, but not be toughened like a yeast bread. *I almost never have buttermilk on hand, so a perfect substitute for this recipe is to put 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice into a measuring cup then add enough milk to make the total volume 1 1/2 cups.
Shape the dough into a slightly flattened ball. Traditionally the bread would be baked in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, but it is also fine to place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the surface of the dough with the remaining melted butter. Using a sharp knife, score the top of the bread with an X shape about 1/2 inch deep. I forgot to do this for the bread in the pictures, but it still came out great. This practice was really to mark a Cross in each loaf, but it has the added benefit of helping the middle of the dough cook through better, so it is still best to do this.
Put the bread in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the middle of the bread is completely baked through. Insert a thin knife or toothpick into the center of the bread, if it comes out clean the bread is done. Allow the bread to cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes to allow the moisture to evenly dissipate within the loaf. Serve warm with butter if desired, but it is tender enough to not need it (but need really isn’t the issue here, now is it?).