Apart from traditional Irish lamb stew, colcannon mashed potatoes, and chocolate stout cake, the most famous food of the Emerald Isle is Irish soda bread, which is baked in large quantities during the weeks and days leading up to Saint Patrick's Day.
Irish soda bread is a quick bread that doesn't require any yeast — all of its leavening comes from baking soda and buttermilk. Soda bread is traditionally baked for St. Patrick's Day. It doesn't require proofing or rising — buttermilk's acid reacts with baking soda's base to leaven the bread. You can bake it as soon as the dough comes together.
A loaf of good Irish soda bread isn't heavy on the inside; it's rather tender and soft. Once it is out of the oven, the crust is nice and crisp, but it gets a little chewy after a couple of days.
The origin of Irish soda bread
Although Irish soda bread is widely enjoyed during St. Patrick's Day festivities, the bread's history doesn't go back nearly as far as St. Patrick himself — roughly 400 AD — but rather only a couple of centuries. Irish soda bread was created during the financial crisis of the late 1830s. A shortage of ingredients led to the creation of this bread. The recipe is, in fact, based on the simplest and least expensive ingredients: soft wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk. Soft wheat flour is ideal for soda bread instead of hard wheat flour – most often found in yeasted bread. In addition, because Ireland's unique climate allows only soft wheat to grow, soda bread became a perfect match for the country's home cooks.
This simple and filling dish was ideal for families who lived in remote areas with little access to cooking equipment. Many lower-class and farmhouse kitchens did not have access to an oven at the time, so the bread was cooked in iron pots or on griddles over open hearths. This cooking method resulted in the unique dense texture, hard crust, and sour taste of soda bread.
Soda bread loaves have traditionally been marked with a cross on the top for superstitious reasons. Families believed that if they cut a cross into their bread tops, the cross would ward off evil and protect their household.
Irish soda bread recipe
A cake-like Irish soda bread is the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day — but we guarantee you'll crave it all year round. Try this fresh, classic, easy-to-make soda bread that evokes the taste of Ireland.
Total time: 1 hr 10 mins
4 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups raisins
1 ½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
3 eggs, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan.
Mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Combine the butter and flour mixture using a pastry cutter until well combined, and then stir in the raisins. Mix the buttermilk and eggs in a separate bowl; lightly beat the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture. Transfer the dough to a lined cake pan.
Bake the bread in the preheated oven until it has risen and is golden brown, 45 mins to 1 hour. When a knife is inserted into the bread, it should come out clean. After cooling for ten minutes on a wire rack, remove the bread from the pan. Enjoy warm.
How long does Irish soda bread last?
As with most homemade bread, Irish soda bread dries out quickly and is best eaten shortly after baking. When wrapped well in plastic or foil, it can be kept at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.
You can make it ahead and freeze it (let it cool to room temperature first). First, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in aluminium foil. It will last about two months in the freezer.