Soda bread is a classic component in Irish cuisine. It is also noticeably present in American bakeries, especially around St. Patrick's day when many families eat Irish and Irish-American foods to celebrate their heritage.
Soda bread is what is known as a quick-bread. This means that it uses chemical leavening to produce the bubbles inside the bread (as opposed to yeast). This does make it a quick recipe. A loaf can be made and baked in under an hour, ready to bring over to a friend's house for dinner.
American soda bread tends to be more cake-like. It is often heavily sweetened and light and airy, I have even seen recipes for soda bread that call for cake flour. I say no! No to this cake in bread's clothing! This recipe makes a delicious, not too rich, bread.
Enjoy it as a great side to your St. Patrick's Day dinner, or anytime.
Update: The terminology seems to vary concerning this kind of bread. Some people have described this as bannock instead of soda bread, while others have shown me bannock and it is a different item. Some have noted that this must be an American version, but it is nearly identical to an Irish recipe I was given. It's quite the example of the diversity of the English language.
Step 1: Ingredients and Tools
Assemble together your ingredients and tools. While you are at it preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 220 degrees Celsius.
Here are the ingredients used in the soda bread:
2 Cups White Flour
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda (Bicarbonate of Soda)
3 Tablespoons of Butter
1& 3/4 Cups Cultured Buttermilk
Optional Ingredients -Add any of these if you want a twist on your soda bread.
2 teaspoons Caraway Seeds
1 Cup Raisins
1 Tbsp Sugar (if you like a sweeter bread)
Dry Measuring Cup
Liquid Measuring Cup
Pastry Blender (optional)
Step 2: Mix Dry Ingredients
In your mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients; the flours, baking soda, and salt. If you are using any sugar, add that at this point as well. Using the spoon to mix the ingredients until they are a well integrated powder. Make sure there are no lumps.
Then, cut the butter into thin slices. Put these slices in your flour, and use the pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour. If you do not have a pastry blender two butter knives can be used. Push down with the pastry blender, periodically mixing with it. Remove any butter that gets stuck on it and place it back in the bowl. Do this until the mixture once again resembles a powder, with no chunks of butter remaining.
If you've never used a pastry blender before, I'm sure you will find it quite easy. It's a tool worth picking up. It is very useful for pastries, pies, and mashing bananas. If this whole butter thing sounds too difficult you can omit it if you like, although the result is nicer with the butter.
If you are using raisins add them to this mixture, rolling them through your hands so they are separated. Stir them in, covering them with the flour mixture.
Step 3: Mix and Knead
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add an egg and the buttermilk. Use the mixing spoon and start stirring, put some strength into it. The acidity of the buttermilk is already reacting with the baking soda to produce bubbles. Don't dally too much at this point or your soda bread might come out a bit flat.
When the dough has come together (most of the flour is integrated) and has a shaggy look to it, scrape the dough from the spoon into the bowl. Flour your hands thoroughly, make sure to get some between the fingers. Knead the dough in the bowl for 1-2 minutes. Fold the dough in half, press it down, fold again.
When you have finished kneading, shape the dough into a ball.
Step 4: Shaping and Baking
Get out the baking sheet and lightly dust it with flour, don't bother oiling it. Place the ball of dough in the middle and flatten it out until it is two inches or less in thickness. The height of the dough is based upon personal preference, but it is also important not to leave it too thick or the bread will not bake evenly. You can use a rolling pin or floured hands to flatten it. As you can see, I prefer to use my hands.
Next, "score" the loaf using a sharp knife. Make an X shape across the bread as shown. This helps the bread expand consistently and also makes it easy to divide when you are getting ready to eat it.
Put the bread in the preheated 425F oven. I placed my pan on top of a baking stone, but placing it on the middle rack will work perfectly. Bake for 45 minutes.
Step 5: Bake and Cleanup
What do you do for the 45 minutes that the bread is baking?
Put all your dishes in the mixing bowl and fill it with water to allow the dough bits to soak a few minutes. Then wipe down the area you did this in, it is probably dusty with flour.
Take a break, wash and dry the dishes, and you should already be able to smell the soda bread baking. Try not to peek.
Step 6: Cool, Cut, and Eat!
After 45 minutes the bread should be perfectly brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool for a few moments. The loaf should easily come free from the baking tray. Place it on a rack or shelf and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes.
Slice into it with a knife and enjoy. It goes quite well with whiskey butter.
To store it, place the bread in a plastic bag or your breadbox. It stores surprisingly well and makes a great breakfast, just make sure it doesn't dry out.
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