Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Irish soda bread is a delicious quick bread that requires no yeast but gets its beautiful rise from a combination of baking soda and buttermilk. It has a crisp crust and a dense, tender crumb, which makes it the perfect bread for soaking up the remnants of your favorite beef stew (or just slathering in butter!). This simple soda bread can be made in just one hour and with simple ingredients!
Following the lead of the traditional Irish recipe, we are making a simple bread that comes together quickly with just a few ingredients.
We get the same crispy outer crust and tender inner crumb, but amp it up with a little richness. It’s perfect for pairing with my Guiness Beef Stew on St. Patrick’s Day (or any day, really)!
I’ve made a ton of variations on traditional Irish soda bread over the years – scones, brown bread, whiskey soda bread with Irish whiskey butter, and rye soda bread – however, this original classic version continues to be my absolute favorite.
It bakes up with a fabulous crisp crust and a light, tender crumb. It’s the perfect vehicle for slathering on embarrassing amounts of Kerrygold butter.
Irish soda bread history
It’s an adaptation of a quick bread developed by American settlers in the 1700s. The American version was made with potash – a precursor to modern-day baking soda.
By the mid-1800s, sodium bicarbonate (the scientific name for baking soda) became commercially available in Europe, and Irish soda bread was born.
What’s in Irish soda bread
In Ireland, the traditional soda bread recipe contains only four ingredients:
- Baking soda
- Low-Protein Flour
They are mixed together just until a rough dough forms and baked golden brown.
The resulting bread has a crispy exterior and soft, tender interior. It welcomes butter and is perfect for sopping up a delicious stew.
- Flour – One of the main differences between a classic soda bread recipe and the ingredients in this one is the flour. The wheat produced in Ireland was low in protein. Being low in protein meant it didn’t have enough structure to work well with yeast in bread recipes. This being said, the flour was much softer, so it did work marvelously with baking soda! These days, all-purpose flour has a higher protein than the flour in the traditional bread. As a result, we will add some cake flour, which has a lower protein count. Blending cake flour with all-purpose provides the perfect protein ratio for this bread.
- Acidity – The traditional recipe relies on buttermilk reacting with baking soda to create the leavener. This recipe boosts it with the addition of cream of tartar.
- Sugar – There’s a small amount of sugar in this recipe. Not much, just two tablespoons. This helps balance out the saltiness from both the salt and baking soda.
- Butter – Butter gives the bread extra richness, more flavor, and a softer crumb.
How to make Irish soda bread
Because this is a “quick bread” recipe, the process is very easy and only takes about ten minutes!
- Prepare the Oven – Preheat your oven to 400°F. Also, adjust the rack to the middle-top position, to ensure you get a beautiful golden-brown crust.
- Prepare the Base – Break out a large mixing bowl, and dump in your dry ingredients: flours, salt, sugar, and cream of tartar. Whisk them together with a fork, and then add the softened butter. Use the back of your fork or your fingers to smash the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
- Make the Dough – Use your fork to stir in the buttermilk just until the dough comes together. Turn it out onto a well-floured counter and gently work the dough until it’s bumpy and cohesive. Form it into a 6” disc, place it onto a 12” cast iron skillet or parchment-lined baking sheet. Score the top of your loaf with an X so that it can expand in the oven.
- Bake the Bread – Place the loaf in your preheated oven and bake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The interior should be 180°F when read with an instant-read thermometer. Baking should take 40-45 minutes. Brush the loaf with your melted butter and allow it to cool completely (about 30-40 minutes) before slicing, serving, and enjoying!
While I love this recipe au natural, you can put tons of different spins on it! Here are some ideas for you:
- 1 cup of raisins, golden raisins, or currants
- 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds
- Other chopped dried fruit, such as figs or cherries
- Chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pistachios
- Cubed cheddar cheese + grated apple
- Black pepper + Parmesan cheese
- Chopped sundried tomatoes + crumbled feta
- Make it sweet with chopped dark chocolate + shredded coconut
Recipe tips and tricks for soda bread
- For the quickest bread make sure to have all your ingredients measured and in place before you begin.
- Do not knead the dough until it is smooth. Stop once it is lumpy and cohesive – about 12-14 turns. If you knead it until it’s smooth, your finished bread will be tough.
- Use a cast-iron skillet for the crispiest crust. A baking sheet will work fine, but there’s something magical about cast iron.
- To store the bread wrap it well in plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature for up to three days.
- Reheat slices of the bread in a toaster oven at 350 degrees F until the outside is crisp.
Irish soda bread
This quick and easy soda bread requires no yeast and is the perfect sidekick for soup night or anytime you’re craving freshly baked bread but don’t want to wait for it to rise. A must-have recipe for everyone!
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
Irish Soda Bread
- 3 cups (360 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (120 g) cake flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) cream of tartar
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1½ cups (360 ml) buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Work the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or your fingertips until the texture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Add the buttermilk and stir with a fork just until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead just until the dough becomes cohesive and bumpy, 12 to 14 turns. (Do not knead until the dough is smooth, or the bread will turn out tough.)
- Pat the dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Score the dough by cutting a cross shape on the top of the loaf.
- Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, or the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F on an instead-read thermometer, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the loaf from the oven and brush the surface with the melted butter. Cool to room temperature before slicing, about 30 to 40 minutes. Leftovers should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- Cake Flour - You can purchase cake flour in most grocery stores or online; if you can't get it, substitute ¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Buttermilk - This is the key to the bread's rise and phenomenal texture. If you do not have buttermilk and can't get it, use this substitution: Place 1½ tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar in a liquid 2-cup measuring cup. Add enough whole or 2% milk to bring the mixture to 1½ cups. Stir it, then let it sit for 5 minutes before using.
- Equipment - Cast iron skillet
- Mix-Ins - See the list above for both traditional and non-traditional mix-in ideas.
- Freezing Instructions - You can freeze the entire loaf or individual slices. Cool the bread completely, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Freeze for up to 3 months; thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Photography by Ari Laing