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Friday, March 15, 2013

Irish Soda Bread

First things first: I am not Irish.  I had never tasted, nor even heard of Irish soda bread until I started dating my husband, who is 100% of Irish descent.

Every spring, around St. Patrick's Day or Easter, my husband's great-aunt would bake an Irish soda bread and give it to my father-in-law, who would divide it and give a really large, foil-wrapped chunk to my husband.   If you read yesterday's post, you know that my anniversary is on March 14, so my first encounter with Irish bread occurred fairly soon after we were married.

My husband was all excited over a chunk of bread that to me looked like a lump of sawdust with raisins in it.  At his insistence, I tried a bite and found it so dry I couldn't even swallow it, so I choked it down with a gallon of milk.. Okay, that's an exaggeration, it wasn't a gallon but it was way more milk than you should have to drink in one sitting.  I will tell you that I enjoyed the flavor of the bread, but the texture was unbelievably dry.

At this point I feel the need to say that I mean no disrespect to anyone of Irish descent, I am not making fun of you or your bread.  I happily embrace so many things from your culture:  I love the color green almost as much as I like pink, the Boomtown Rats totally rock, and having named my children Caitlin, Sean and Erin you can be assured that I think Irish names are the bees knees.   I also feel the need to tell you that I am of Italian descent (with a name like Frances, what else could I be?  Did you ever watch the Sopranos?  Do you remember that episode when Paulie's mom invited her girlfriends over to play cards?  At the end of that episode, when the credits were rolling, suddenly there was a glut of characters played by actresses named Frances.  Like, practically every one of those little old Italian ladies was played by an actress named Frances!).  If my descriptions of Irish soda bread are insulting your Irish sensibilities and you feel the need to fire back at me that Italian panettone is blah and overrated, let me tell you right now that I agree with you.  Now that I've cleared the air, let me continue....

So, after we had been married a couple of years, I saw a recipe in the newspaper for Irish soda bread (this was the 1980's, folks, before there was internet access we actually read newspapers to get our daily fix of what's going on in the world) and I thought to myself, why should Mr. Terrific have to wait for his great-aunt's yearly baking? Why not bake it myself?  So I followed the recipe for "My Best Irish Soda Bread" (or some other similar, folksy name) and man, was it good!  It was not dry, it was perfect. 

I was so excited, I couldn't wait for Mr. Terrific to come home so that I could show him the bread and tell him that he would be able to have homemade Irish Soda Bread more often than once a year.  He took a bite of the bread, and promptly told me that his aunt's was better.  At that moment, I was wishing that it was as dry as his aunt's bread so that he would just go ahead and choke on it.

I don't know what happened to that recipe that I made all those years ago, because Mr. Terrific said "my aunt's is better" one time too many and in a hissy fit I chucked the recipe and went on strike for a few years.  The recipe that I use now is a combination of several recipes; I left out things I didn't like and added things I thought should be there.  Hope you enjoy it, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today's Playlist
  • "Rat Trap".....The Boomtown Rats
  • "Sunshine Highway".......Dropkick Murphys
  • "Bright Side Of The Road".......Van Morrison
  • "When Love Comes To Town".......U2
  • "She's So Modern".......The Boomtown Rats
  • "The Boys Are Back In Town"......Thin Lizzy
  • "Wild Honey"......U2
  • "Tessie".......Dropkick Murphys

Irish Soda Bread
Printable recipe

  • 4 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing the top of the bread
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 heaping tablespoon caraway seeds
Gather your ingredients.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly spray a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

Combine your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda and salt) in the bowl of  your mixer.

Cut your butter into pieces.  To do this, it has to be really cold, otherwise it's just gonna make a mushy mess.

First, cut it into three slices.

Then, cut each slice into 3 sticks.

Then, slice the sticks.  Ta-da!  Diced cold butter.

Add the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on a low speed until it is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the egg and the buttermilk.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the buttermilk/egg mixture into the flour mixture.

 Add the raisins...

 and the caraway seeds and mix into the dough.

 Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a well-floured board or counter top.  The dough is really, really sticky.  I used about 1/4 cup of flour.  Knead the dough until it holds together and is no longer wet and sticky.

 I only kneaded it five times to get it to look like this.  Still a ton of flour left on my counter, but you have to use way more than you actually need to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface.

 Form the dough into a round disk and place it onto your sheet pan.
 Using a serrated knife, cut an "X" into the top of the loaf, about 1/2" deep.  This will help the bread cook thoroughly.

 Brush the top of the bread with the additional buttermilk.

 This will give it a bit of a hard crust when it bakes.

Bake for 42 to 48 minutes.  Test it by sticking a toothpick into the center.  If the toothpick comes out clean without any goopy dough on it, you will know that the bread is done.  You can also thump the bread with your knuckles, and if it sounds sort of hollow, it's done.

Allow it to cool on a wire rack.

 Serve warm or at room temperature.



  1. Hi Fran, I got a kick out of the 'dry soda bread' story. We are having a wee bit of a green dinner with the family tomorrow. My middle daughter is making Irish Soda bread. We'll see if it's a keeper. Happy St. Patty's!

  2. Fran, You really had me laughing, love your story. Where I'm from, seems everyone is either Irish or Italian heritage. There is nothing that beats good Italian food....even though your Irish Soda bread looks outstanding, LOL!


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