Irish Soda Bread

Introduction: Irish Soda Bread

About: I am a chemical engineering undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire. I like to make things.

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
1 Egg

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)

Mixing Bowl
Dry Measuring Cup
Butter Knife
Liquid Measuring Cup
Wooden Spoon
Pastry Blender (optional)
Baking Sheet

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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    10 Discussions

    Dr Qui
    Dr Qui

    9 years ago on Introduction

    You should change the title of this ible to just "wheaten bannock"

    What you have here is actually a wheaten bannock which is of a Celtic origin so is not solely Irish.

    This is not soda bread. soda bread contains only white flour and does not have either butter or eggs in.

    Soda bread is a flat bread that should be cooked on a griddle and turned halfway through cooking, the bread is cut into 4 quarter once placed on the griddle, these quarters are known as farls.

    Wheaten soda is made with 3/4 whole wheat flour and 1/4 plain flour

    Wheaten soda should be also griddle cooked although it is often baked in a bread tin to make a wheaten loaf.

    In the words of Denis Leary who so often claims to be Irish "Irish food is not cuisine, its penance" I happen to agree with Denis on this one but not on the fact that he is Irish, we would call him first generation American, but then we sort of tolerate him on that because he makes us laugh.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your comment Dr. Qui!

    Clearly, terminology varies, because from my understanding bannock is something that is usually flatter and cooked on a griddle or a stone. I've actually had what was referred to as bannock and it was very similar to what you have described; a bit different than what I have here.

    I'm not familiar with the strict limits on proportions of types of flour. Of course, from my perspective as a baker, I just use the flour proportions that work best for flavor and texture in each bread. I found that using more whole wheat flour made the loaf a bit denser than I care for.

    The butter content in this recipe is actually to make up for the buttermilk often available around where I live, which is usually skimmed milk. Sometimes I find cultured buttermilk that is not totally free of fat, in this case I omit the butter in the recipe.

    In the United States, soda bread is usually made with a lot of butter, sugar, and cake flour. Indeed, I often refer to it as "St. Patrick's Day Cake", refusing to consider such a thing bread (mostly because of the texture and high sugar content).

    Do you perhaps have a recipe for what you've described? I think I could probably give it a try from your description but I'd like to try it exactly. I think it would be an interesting comparison.

    Dr Qui
    Dr Qui

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    My mothers soda bread recipe is

    about a pound of flower Plain
    2 level tea spoons of baking soda or bicarb.
    2 level tea spoons of salt.
    2 level tea spoons of sugar.

    Google Irish soda bread recipe and you will see that your recipe is not for soda bread.

    I'm Irish and I live in Ireland and if you served this as soda bread you would get laughed at.  Your title is wrong on 2 counts because firstly it is not soda bread but bannock, secondly bannock is not primarily Irish.

    You have done a great instructable, but your title is misinformative, which for an Instructable on Irish food I cant let slip.

    Dr Qui
    Dr Qui

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction
    This site has it right but is a bit heavy handed with the famine and poverty crap, you don't see to many impoverished or famine ridden Irish these days.

    Check the Ulster farls page for what I call soda bread, I'm from the province of  Ulster (9  counties 6in N. Ireland 3 in the Republic of Ireland) This recipie is what I would call correct, my mother adds a small amount of sugar as she says it makes the soda rise quicker.

    A better title would be American style Irish Soda bread


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Dr Qui,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. I haven't been able to find a consistent description of what soda bread means in Ireland. It seems to vary regionally, my recipe is based on what some ladies from County Cork described.

    I have not had a chance to try your recipe, but I will probably give it a go in "bread season" (December/January in New Hampshire).

    I'm not sure "American Style" would be totally correct, because American style "Irish soda bread" is very light, very sweet, and mae totally of white flour. However, I have updated the instructable to mention the variance in terminology that you've brought to my attention.

    Dr Qui
    Dr Qui

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    This would be my description of soda bread from the point of view of a Irishman from the province of Ulster, growing up during the 1970's where soda bread would have been baked about twice a week on average.

    If you make the Ulster style soda farls, they need to be cooked on the stove top on a griddle or a thick based frying pan that has been very lightly greased and dusted with flower.

    My mother would lightly wipe the griddle over with a butter wrapper and then dust the griddle with flour before baking

    For a first timer it can take a few tries before you get the baking just right it can tend to be a bit doughy in the middle which is not good.   Sieving the flower is important as you will get little flour pellets in the mix and that can ruing the bread.

    I highly recommend you give the Ulster style farls a go as I do think it is the best of the bunch when well made and fresh.

    To my self and most native Ulster Irish the soda farl would have been an every day easy to make bread, in the modern consumer market it has now become something people buy from local bakeries or the big supermarket bakeries.  I would almost go as far to say it is now becoming less favored for more exotic European breads.

    In a word soda bread must be described as bland, very  very bland, it is unbelievably tasty hot from the griddle with butter and jam  an absolute pleasure , but cold can be bland and in some cases a bit dry and crumbly and on the heavy side. 

    The daily baking of soda bread has been on the decline since about the 1960 's now it may be a once a week kind of thing to some and almost a special treat to have home baked soda bread in some houses.

    It is best hot or warm from the griddle, best eaten the same day, does not keep all that well 1 or 2 day max as it will start to dry out and become chewy, but is nice at this stage for frying or toasting.  Buttered soda bread is agreat bread to go with soup of almost any kind.

    Slice a farl in half and fry it in little bit of  bacon fat until crispy and you have a integral part of the famous Ulster fry,  a hearty breakfast or the perfect hangover food that will either kill you or cure you. bacon fried soda bread bread is mana from the gods, but can harden the arteries at 30 paces.

    Add a fried egg to the fried soda (fried on the cut side only in this case) to form a sandwich and you have the "egg soda", also works with bacon or sausage or if you are a real starvo you can have the full works  the egg sausage and bacon soda and is often best served from a van at 2am when the pubs are chucking out or at some wet and windy sporting event.  I guess it would  be the equivalent to your chili dogs.

    The basic recipes for soda are almost always the same but each persons bread will have its own characteristics, its not uncommon for people to go to a bakery in the next town over because they have a soda read that has its own unique qualities that the local bakery lacks.

    Soda bread would have been a plain everyday bread, more or less a filler food to pad out a basic diet,  As an Irishman observing American culture through the American shows that filter through to us i would recon it would be something along the lines of  your corn bread or those biscuit things.

    Thanks to bloody Happy Days and American TV's usage of soda as a beverage i was about 8 before I figured out that a Sausage soda was not a drink but a sandwich, I have met others that where also similarly confused as children,  Now as an adult and a Primus fan i get a chuckle when i look at the Pork Soda album as it reminds me of the childhood confusion.

    I'm not sure if anyone has done a potato bread instructable yet, if not I may be tempted to post one as I need to learn my mothers method for making it.  Most Irish people would nearly confess a preference for a freshly baked potato bread than soda if offered both hot of the griddle.

    I hope this helps,

    Give  Ulster soda farls a try, trust me you will enjoy if stick the the savory side of things rather than the sweet.


    9 years ago on Step 6

    This sounds tasty. I have a different recipe for soda bread I like quite well, but I think it falls into your description of the American cake-like style, though I don't sweeten it. I feel like a comparison between the two is in order, as I'm always looking for ways to make tasty things better.

    I do have one question, though. What is this 'whiskey butter' you speak of? It also sounds tasty, and I've never heard of such a thing. Is it something that can be acquired already made, or is this something I can make myself?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Whiskey butter is butter infused with your favorite whiskey. Many people like soda bread with raisins in it (very popular with the cake type soda bread). Whenever I do this I moisten the raisins by soaking them in a bit of my favorite whiskey. I am not much of a drinker so instead of having a shot of raisin whiskey I blend it with soft butter. It is a great spread.

    Another way I have heard of people making whiskey butter is to put a saucepan over a very low flame and put 3-4Tbsp of whiskey into it. Then dissolve a Tbsp or so of brown sugar in there and throw in a stick of butter. Mix it all up and pour it into a dish, wait for it to cool.
    I'm not sure how well that would work, seems to me the alcohol will separate from the butter. Another option might be to take the above ingredients (make sure the butter is soft) and toss them into a blender or food processor. I would probably still try to dissolve te sugar in the alcohol before adding the butter though, lest you get gritty butter.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I've tested it and it turned quite well. I used Bulgarian yogurt diluted with watter instead of butter milk.
    Thank you very much!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad the recipe worked for you. Yogurt eh? That might be a good option for people who don't have access to cultured buttermilk.