All About Traditional Irish Soda Bread—and the Best Way to Enjoy It (2024)

If you were born and raised in Ireland, soda bread is likely what you grew up eating at nearly every meal. It's served first thing in the morning as part of a full Irish breakfast, with tea in the afternoon, and alongside beef or lamb stew or any number of other Irish specialties at dinner. If you're less familiar with soda bread, we're here to explain this easy bread in both its traditional Irish form and the sweeter version enjoyed stateside.

What Is Irish Soda Bread?

Irish soda bread is prepared without yeast. Traditionally it has just four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The baking soda and buttermilk react to cause the dough to rise.

In Ireland, soda bread is often made from stone-ground whole-wheat flour, though white flour versions are available. Stateside, we generally enjoy white soda bread made with all-purpose white flour. In both countries, soda bread is generally shaped into a round. The last step in making any loaf of soda bread is to cut a cross in the top of the dome of dough. According to Irish legend, this is to "let the devil out," but the technique actually serves a practical purpose: The deep slash allows the dough to cook evenly from crust to inner crumb, creating the velvety texture we all adore.

If you're new to bread making, Irish soda bread is a great place to start. It's among the easiest, most forgiving home-baked goods, and it's one of the quickest breads to go from mixing bowl to table. Since there's no yeast involved, it's nearly impossible to mess it up. In fact, the less you handle the dough, the better. As Darina Allen, the grande dame of Irish cooking and author of multiple books on the subject says, when it came to traditional soda bread, "it was a compliment of the highest order to be described as having 'a light hand.'"

A Little History

Like so many traditional foods, Irish soda bread came about as a way for cooks to use what they had. "From earliest times, breadmaking was an integral part of daily life in almost every home…even in the poorest country cabin, fresh soda bread would have been mixed on a wooden baking board and baked on the griddle, or…over the ember of the turf fire," says Allen.

Those loaves featured Irish wheat and buttermilk—either the by-product of butter making, or in the days before refrigeration, sour milk that needed to be used up. The lactic acid in the buttermilk reacts with the alkali baking soda to create carbon dioxide, which in turn causes the bread to rise. Baking soda was introduced to Ireland (where it's known as bread soda) in the 1830s. Since then, it's been a staple in Irish home (and restaurant) kitchens.

Sweeter Soda Bread

On this side of the Atlantic, what we call "Irish soda bread" is more rich and sweet, usually studded with raisins and caraway seeds. These cakey, scone-like loaves often include eggs and butter for tenderness and more flavor. It's nearly impossible to find an accurate date when this became known as the definitive soda bread in the United States. Nevertheless, it's been on the menu in Irish restaurants and bars on St. Patrick's Day and sold in bakeries throughout Irish-American strongholds all year long for as long as anyone can remember. Though its overall shape and structure derive from those early Irish loaves, it bears more of a resemblance to a sweeter Irish bread known as Spotted Dog (or Spotted Dick, not to be mistaken for the British steamed pudding of the same name). To further confuse matters, when Spotted Dog is baked in a loaf pan, it's known as Railway Cake.

Should We Call It Irish-American Soda Bread?

As for the name, the easiest way to clear up the confusion may be to simply refer to the raisin- and caraway-studded version as Irish American Soda Bread, as it's called in the Joy of Cooking. In that most American of American cookbooks, the bread is aptly described as "richer, sweeter and more cake-like than authentic Irish soda bread, which we are assured never made the acquaintance of a raisin or caraway seed either."

How to Eat Irish Soda Bread

This versatile bread works for any meal, but Irish soda bread is a natural for breakfast, whether simply spread with (Irish) butter and jam or alongside that hearty fry-up known as a full Irish breakfast. It's also wonderful with a cup of tea in the afternoon or as a late-night snack. Irish soda bread made without sweeteners or raisins is a natural pairing with smoked salmon or smoked trout, strong cheeses like aged cheddar or the Irish Cashel blue, and as an accompaniment to bowls of hearty soup.

Enjoy It Fast

Homemade Irish soda bread is a treat, but it's a treat that is best eaten on the day that it's baked. It doesn't keep nearly as well as yeast-risen breads. As long as you have enough good-quality butter and some nice fruit jam, that shouldn't be a problem.

All About Traditional Irish Soda Bread—and the Best Way to Enjoy It (2024)


All About Traditional Irish Soda Bread—and the Best Way to Enjoy It? ›

This versatile bread works for any meal, but Irish

Representative dishes include Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, boxty, brown bread (as it is referred to in the South) or soda bread (predominantly used in Ulster), coddle, and colcannon. › wiki › Irish_cuisine
soda bread is a natural for breakfast, whether simply spread with (Irish) butter and jam or alongside that hearty fry-up known as a full Irish breakfast. It's also wonderful with a cup of tea in the afternoon or as a late-night snack.

What's the best way to eat Irish soda bread? ›

Butter. The traditional way of serving your Irish soda bread is serving the loaf while it's warm with butter. Spread a thick layer of your butter on the slice and revel on the hearty flavor exploding in your mouth. If you think that butter is boring, it's not.

How is soda bread traditionally eaten? ›

The method of cooking soda bread is very quick, and it was usually made every two to three days and eaten with the main meal. The traditional way to eat soda bread is to break off a piece, split it and slather it in butter.

Should Irish soda bread be served warm? ›

Serve Irish soda bread warm.

A warmer temperature complements the thick cakey texture of the bread and brings out the hearty flavors, so try serving it freshly baked or toasted. You can also warm up the bread by putting it back in the oven at 350 °F (177 °C) for 7 to 8 minutes.

Should you refrigerate Irish soda bread? ›

Tightly wrap your leftover bread and place it in an airtight container. There's no need to refrigerate. As for how long soda bread lasts: Irish soda bread tends to dry out faster than other breads. The bread will be good for 3-4 days or up to three months if frozen.

What to pair with Irish soda bread? ›

What to pair with your favorite Irish soda bread recipe
  1. Partner with blue cheese. Try a room temperature Cashel Blue from South Tipperary, Ireland or an English Stilton. ...
  2. Serve with citrus. Orange marmalade works well with cake-y bread textures. ...
  3. Butter it up. ...
  4. Make a stew. ...
  5. Build a sandwich.
Mar 5, 2014

What is good to eat with soda bread? ›

Serving suggestions

Fruit: Eat it plain with a cup of your favorite sliced fruit. Cheese: Make a cheese board, and serve the bread alongside a variety of soft and hard cheeses. Soup: This bread makes a great dunking companion for your favorite hearty soup. Sandwiches: Use slices of Irish soda bread to make sandwiches.

Is Irish soda bread served with dinner? ›

My grandmother's Irish soda bread contains some sugar, but it's not overly sweet. It's a wonderful companion for savory dinners like hearty stew or you can serve it with butter, jam, and/or cheese.

Does Irish soda bread taste good? ›

This produces a rather dense bread that's absolutely delicious slathered in butter (particularly Irish butter, and perhaps with some jam). Even more so than yeasted breads, Irish soda bread doesn't have an especially long shelf life — it's best enjoyed the day it's made.

Why do we eat Irish soda bread? ›

Irish soda bread was first created in the 1830s, when baking soda was first introduced to the UK. At the time, Ireland was facing financial hardship and lack of resources, so they turned to soda bread out of neccessity, it was inexpensive and required few ingredients.

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