A St. Patrick’s day feast is not complete without a freshly baked loaf of Irish soda bread. Each slice has a crisp crust and tender crumb. Perfect for serving with corned beef and cabbage.
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This is our family’s favorite Irish soda bread recipe that comes together in just an hour. For St. Patrick’s Day, I usually make a big feast to celebrate my husband’s Irish heritage (hence the last name Gavin). It’s fun sharing our traditions with our children and having them try dishes like corned beef, cabbage, and colcannon.
My kids look forward to helping make the dough and shaping it into a loaf. We add in raisins for a hint of sweetness. The benefit of this type of bread is that you don’t have to wait long to enjoy it. Cutting the crisp crust to reveal a soft and steamy center is always a treat. Once you learn how to make the classic recipe, it’s easy to customize.
Traditional Irish soda bread is made in a cast iron skillet. The heavy pan retains heat well, giving a beautiful golden brown crust with extra crispiness on the bottom. I use a 10-inch size, then grease it with vegetable or olive oil to prevent sticking. The loaf expands to about 8 inches wide.
Alternatively, a greased parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet works well. Check a few minutes earlier for doneness because it heats fast and has more hot air around the loaf. A greased pie dish or dutch oven can also be used. No excuses for not making this delicious bread.
Mix the dry ingredients
The base of the bread is all-purpose flour. It contains a moderate amount of protein—10 to 13%, which gives good structure and tenderness. Baking soda gives the loaf an instant rise instead of waiting hours for yeast bread. Once hydrated, the carbon dioxide bubbles will form quickly, so bake the bread shortly after shaping.
Adding granulated sugar adds flavor and tenderness, accelerates the browning of the crust, and reduces the amount of gluten formation. Salt enhances the taste of the bread. Mix the dry ingredients well to distribute the fine particles evenly.
Incorporate the butter
A small amount of butter adds richness to the dough. Breaking it into flour, similar to cornmeal, creates pockets of fat. The technique is used to make biscuits or scones, as the extra fat helps the crust become crisp and brittle.
The ratio is much lower than other quick bread because we still want the crumb to be chewy and spongy, not crumbly. It’s a lovely contrast to the soft and tender interior of the bread.
Add the mix-ins
It’s chef’s choice if you’d like to add sweet or savory mix-ins to the bread. I love the hint of sweetness that dried fruit like raisins, currents, or cherries add to the bread. I use one cup. It’s just the right amount for flavor every few bites.
Chopped nuts like walnuts also work well for texture contrast. Adding caraway seeds is a traditional ingredient in Irish soda bread for a hint of anise and citrus flavor.
Add the wet ingredients
To hydrate the flour mixture, use a combination of buttermilk and egg. When the baking soda and buttermilk combine, you’ll hear fizzing and see bubbles form to leaven the bread. The tanginess also adds terrific flavor so the slices don’t taste bland. I use 1.5 to 2% milkfat buttermilk, which helps tenderize the bread.
The fat in the egg yolk creates a more decadent bread, and the egg whites help with binding, creating a spongy crumb. The egg can be omitted. The loaf will just be a little lighter in consistency. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then stir in the whisked egg and buttermilk.
Knead the dough
Mixing the bowl of dough will be sticky, don’t worry; you’ll add more flour when shaping to help absorb the moisture on the surface. Dust a work surface with flour, then knead the bread for about a minute. Sprinkle on more flour to help prevent sticking.
The goal is to work the dough enough to encourage gluten formation but not become tough. Shape the dough into about a 6-inch round. Transfer it to the greased cast iron skillet and score the letter “X” on top. This helps the bread cook quicker in the center while the steam releases, creating more lift and a taller loaf.
Bake the bread
Bake at 400ºF (204ºC) until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 190 to 200ºF (88 to 93ºC). This ideal range indicates that the dough is fully cooked instead of raw inside. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, insert a toothpick in the center. There shouldn’t be wet dough sticking to it when removed.
You can also knock on the bottom. It should sound hollow, meaning that it isn’t soggy in the center. The baking time takes about 45 to 55 minutes. Towards the end, if you notice the crust getting very dark but the bread isn’t done yet, loosely tent it with a piece of foil.
Let it cool before slicing
Let the bread cool in the hot pan for 5 minutes, then transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling down. The loaf expands to about 8 inches, making for generous slices. Our family loves eating the bread warm, so we slice and eat it soon after!
Serve this with
- Baked corned beef
- Instant pot corned beef and cabbage
- Slow cooker corned beef
- Sauteed cabbage
More soda bread recipes
Frequently asked questions
A traditional type of bread made in Irish cuisine. The loaf of quick bread is leavened using baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and acidified buttermilk. The combination creates carbon dioxide bubbles, instantly helping the dough rise. The bread is typically made with flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. Sugar, honey, butter, and eggs are often added for a more moist and tender texture.
The crust should be crisp due to the buttery and biscuit-like texture. However, the crumb should not be tough. Do not overmix baking soda-leavened dough, or it will taste tough. Knead for about a minute, just enough to shape into a round but keep the center soft and spongy.
Yes! You can halve this recipe to make two smaller loaves. I don’t recommend making them any smaller. Otherwise, you’ll lose the proper ratio of crust to the interior, and they will taste too dry. Check for doneness for about 25 minutes, adding more time as needed.
Substituting baking powder for baking soda
If you don’t have baking soda in your pantry, use baking powder instead. You’ll need three times as much since baking soda is more potent. Substitute 1 tablespoon of baking powder when making this recipe for Irish soda bread.
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Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
- 1 cup raisins, or currants
- 1 ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- Heat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat to 400ºF (200ºC). Lightly grease the bottom of a cast iron skillet with vegetable or olive oil. Set aside. Alternatively, use a greased parchment paper-lined sheet pan.
- Mix the Dry Ingredients – In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
- Incorporate the Butter – Add the chilled cubes of butter to the bowl. Use fingers or a pastry cutter to break them into smaller pieces. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal.
- Add the Raisins – Stir in the raisins, then make a well in the center of the flour mixture.
- Add the Wet Ingredients – In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the mixture into the well of the flour mixture. Use a spoon to stir until a shaggy dough forms, it will be tacky.
- Shape the Dough – Generously flour a cutting board or work surface. Using floured hands, knead the dough until a ball forms, sprinkling more flour as needed to prevent sticking, about 30 to 60 seconds. Do not overwork!
- Bake – Transfer the dough to a large cast iron skillet. Cut a shallow "X" into the top, about ½-inch deep and 4 inches long. Bake until the center reaches 190ºF (88ºC), the surface is golden brown, and the bottom is hollow when tapped, about 45 to 50 minutes. If you notice the surface getting brown too quickly, loosely cover it with foil.
- Cool and Serve – Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer it to a wire rack. Slice and serve while warm or cool completely.
- Recipe Yield: About an 8-inch loaf
- Substituting with Baking Powder: Add 1 tablespoon of baking powder instead of baking soda.
- No Buttermilk?: You can try these substitutes. However, since there’s a large amount in the recipe, it will taste the best with the actual product.
- Storing: Cool completely and tightly wrap in foil. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days. Freeze the loaf of slices for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: Warm in the oven at 300 degrees. Alternatively, warm the slices in a toaster.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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