Traditional Irish Soda Bread is the perfect addition to your St. Patrick’s Day or Spring breakfast table. My recipe inspiration came from my 1967 “America Cooks, The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Cookbook.” The original recipe called for caraway seeds, and included this note: “For Sundays, raisins were added and the loaf was iced.”
I’ve made a few modern adjustments by omitting the caraway seeds, adding pastry flour and a bit of orange zest, and used currants instead of raisins. Traditionally, a cross was cut into the top of the loaf as protection from the devil, or as a symbol of blessing and thanks. However, as a bakers tip, slicing the loaf before baking actually helps to let heat reach the center of the bread to allow even baking.
Bakers tips for Traditional Irish Soda Bread:
Use a combination of flour:
Use a combination of all purpose and low-gluten pastry flour. Don’t use bread flour as it has a higher protein content and will produce more gluten, making the bread too chewy. Kneading also contributes to gluten development, so do not knead the dough before baking. Also, do not knead the dough before baking, otherwise the gluten will develop and yield a chewy texture.
Tips on using buttermilk:
For a light tender crumb, dissolve the baking soda into the buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk, make it yourself by adding 1 T. of white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup and fill it with milk to the 1 c. line (whole milk is best). Dry buttermilk is also really nice to have stocked in your pantry to mix up as needed.
Using dried currants instead of raisins:
I prefer to use zante currants in my scones or soda bread for their size and tangy sweetness. Zante currants are a small, dried, dark seedless grape – and are not the same as red or white currants that are small grape-like berries grown on shrubs. If you don’t have currants on hand, raisins are fine to use. For a flavor boost, soak your currants or raisins in a bit of Irish whiskey for about 15 minutes before adding them. Before adding to the bread, drain them and toss lightly in flour so they will distribute evenly in the dough.
To bake the Classic Irish Soda Bread, I use my Le Creuset dutch oven lined with parchment paper. This reduces spread as the bread bakes and ensures a nice, round loaf . You can use a half-sheet baking sheet lined with parchment paper, but the loaf may spread while baking.
Not all “sanding sugar” is the same:
Course sugar (decorating sugar) is made up of larger crystals and typically used to lend a professional look to scones, muffins, and cookies. For Traditional Irish Soda Bread (or scones), brush a light coat of heavy cream and then sprinkle on the sugar. When topping cookies, use an egg white wash, then sprinkle with sugar. And for muffins, simply sprinkle on the sugar. Course sugar is preferred over sanding or granulated sugar for its heat resistance and slightly crunchy texture.
Classic Irish Soda Bread
- 2 2/3 c. unbleached flour
- 1 c. pastry flour
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 T. baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/3 c. unsalted butter melted
- 1 egg
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 1 tsp. baking soda dissolve in buttermilk
- 1/3 c. heavy cream
- 1 T. orange or lemon zest
- 3/4 c. currants or raisins soak in whiskey
- course sanding sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line iron skillet or dutch oven with parchment paper.
- OPTIONAL: Pour Irish whiskey into liquid measuring cup and add raisins or currants. Set aside.
- Melt butter in microwave for 30 seconds.
- Place dry ingredients into mixer. Mix until just combined.
- Add in wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
- Drain currants, toss into flour and gently fold into the dough.
- While in the mixing bowl, form dough into round loaf and place dough into the pan.
- Cut a cross on the top with a sharp or serrated knife.
- Using a pastry brush, lightly coat with heavy cream. Generously sprinkle with white course sanding sugar.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes.