The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (2024)

Total Time:

1 hr


1 loaf

This recipe is based on the one my Irish mother learned in school, thanks to the cooking textbookAll in the Cooking. For a baked good with such simple ingredients, soda bread has the range. Light and cake-like or dense and hearty, it all tastes good with Irish butter.

When at-home genetic testing kits started to be a big thing, my parents decided to go ahead and send in their little saliva samples to get a more robust picture of our heritage. When my Mom's came back, she texted the family announcing that she was more than 90% Irish.

This was surprising not at all. My mom grew up in Athlone, in the Midlands of Ireland, and, but for a few folks venturing over to England now and again, my understanding is that side of the family is Irish all the way down. My mom's side of the family is scattered around the Dublin suburbs, where I puttered around for most of my childhood summers.

It is for this reason that St. Patrick's Dayconfused me deeply growing up in Alabama. In Ireland, at least until fairly recently, it is largely a minor religious holiday — my Auntie Eilish and Uncle John send me a Catholic prayer card every year marking the occasion. In the United States, it is a day for green beer and green hats, parades of revelers chucking potatoes and cabbages, and, for some reason, pinching. It wasn't until later in my life that I understood the distinction: St. Patrick's Day is an Irish-American holiday much more than an Irish holiday.

Thanks to various historical tragedies that spurred waves of immigration, there are far, far more Irish-Americans living in the U.S. than there are Irish people in Ireland. Perthe 2019 Census estimates, roughly 32 million Americans identify as being of Irish descent, close to 10% of the entire population. There are, by the United Nation's population figures, about 4.9 million people in all of the Republic of Ireland. What that means, on a practical level, is that as with so many immigrants, Irish-Americans have their own distinctive cuisine that integrates elements from both Irish cuisine and the nebulous, ever-shifting blob that is American cuisine. Irish-American cuisine doesn't map perfectly on Irish cuisine or vice versa, but there are overlaps. One of those issoda bread.

Soda bread, depending on who you're talking to, can either be a craggy wholemeal loaf or a lighter, sweeter currant-studded one, or something in between. In Ireland, soda bread is often separated into two types: brown and white. Brown tends to lean toward the denser side of the spectrum, basically equivalent to a whole-wheat or multigrain bread, and white to the lighter side, a loaf made with all-purpose flour. I learned to make soda bread from my Granny O'Donoghue, and from my dad, who, though not Irish by birth, has taken up the mantle of family baker. The recipe I use at home is one I adapted fromAll in the Cooking, the domestic science book that my mom used in school, a staple of Irish education from its publication in 1946 to well into the 1970s. But my soda bread might not be your soda bread, because one person's experience of a whole country and its traditions and diaspora is bound to be incomplete. That's OK. There's room for all soda breads here.

Note from the Food & Wine Test Kitchen

Basic soda bread just requires flour, salt, baking soda, buttermilk, and a hot oven. My Irish-American friends tend to make a sweeter version than the one that I grew up with, which isn't wrong, it's just a different plan of attack. This one requires no sugar at all and no raisins either, but I'm not against it if you feel like throwing in a handful. After much tweaking, I found that the ratio of baking soda is crucial — keeping it to half a teaspoon prevents the whole loaf from acquiring an overwhelmingly bitter flavor, but it's plenty to give the loaf a good rise. Depending on which flour you use and various temperature and humidity conditions of your kitchen, you may need more or less buttermilk to bring the mixture together into a shaggy dough. If you don't have buttermilk (orbuttermilk powder) around, sour milk, thinned-out yogurt, or kefir work too, as I've found at various points. The recipe works with any all-purpose flour, but if you love soda bread, it's worth seeking out Irish flour likeOdlum's, a coarse-ground wheat flour that makes the loaf both denser and slightly nuttier tasting.(Odlum's is such a core part of the Irish pantry that when my Auntie Eilish flies over to the United States, she often brings us a bag as a treat, alongside a variety of excellentIrish chocolate. When we fly to visit her in County Kildare, we bring premade cookie dough.)King Arthur Baking Companymakes an excellent Irish-style flour that works equally well here.

Soda bread can be tricky to get the hang of, but remember that it exists as a spectrum, from more biscuit-like to more of a dense, whole wheat bread. Handling the dough as little as possible helps make a loaf that's not overly tough. All you need to do is get the dough mixed enough that no raw flour or streaks of buttermilk are showing, and pat it into a vaguely circular loaf. Don't be shy about cutting the cross at least a quarter-inch deep — "letting the faeries out" as the Irish proverb goes. The most crucial thing to remember is a slathering of nice Irish butter — like Kerrygold — on the bread at the end, or, if you're very lucky, fresh jam from your auntie's garden.

Frequently asked questions

What is traditional Irish soda bread made of?

Containing just four ingredients — all-purpose wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk — this Irish soda bread recipe is very much in line with what's eaten in Ireland. In addition to this version made with white flour, the Irish do make a whole wheat (aka wholemeal) variety as well. Some Irish-American adaptations also contain ingredients such as eggs, raisins, sugar, and butter for a more cake-like quality, but these are not considered traditional.

What makes Irish soda bread different?

Irish soda bread is leavened by the combination of baking soda and buttermilk rather than yeast, so it actually falls into the quick bread category (think banana bread, zucchini bread, etc.). 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.


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (16 ounces)

  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk, shaken

  • Good butter, such as Kerrygold, for serving


  1. The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (1)

    Gather the ingredients.

  2. The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (2)

    Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.

  3. The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (3)

    Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until a loose dough forms. You're looking for a dough that's soft but not overly sticky or wet, and that holds together enough to make a loaf that can hold its shape on the sheet pan. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add up to 1/2 cup additional buttermilk, a tablespoon or so at a time, until it comes together.

  4. The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (4)

    When the dough is just mixed together — no streaks of flour or buttermilk — transfer it to the parchment-lined sheet pan. Using your hands, form the dough into a round that's roughly 8 inches in diameter. Using a paring knife, cut a large "X" across the top of the loaf.

  5. The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (5)

    Bake until soda bread is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom of the loaf, about 45 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet until just warm, then slice and eat with good butter. To store, wrap in a slightly damp tea towel to prevent the crust from getting too hard and keep on the counter.

The Soda Bread I Learned From My Irish Mom's Home Ec Textbook (2024)


What is the myth behind Irish soda bread? ›

Contrary to a common misconceptions, the Irish did not import the Soda Bread recipe from the American Indians. This misconception is my fault because 30+ years ago on the original site I happened to mention Native Americans using Potash to make bread.

What's the difference between Irish bread and Irish soda bread? ›

Irish brown bread has a deep, nutty flavor because of its wheat flour and wheat bran while soda bread uses only white flour. Soda bread is slightly sweet and more scone-like while Irish brown bread is more savory with a tender interior.

What is the Irish name for soda bread? ›

In some parts of Fermanagh, the white flour form of the bread is described as fadge. The "griddle cakes", "griddle bread" (or soda farls in Ulster) take a more rounded shape and have a cross cut in the top to allow the bread to expand. The griddle cake or farl is a more flattened type of bread.

What country is most associated with Irish soda bread? ›

A unique cooking method that gave soda bread its dense texture, hard crust, and slight sourness. Despite its humble beginnings, Irish soda bread has become a large part of the typical St. Patrick's Day feast and plays a major role in Ireland's culinary history.

Do the Irish really eat Irish soda bread? ›

Each country has its “national” bread with recipes dating back to their forefathers. Ireland, for one, has embraced it's kind of bread – the soda bread. It is a basic staple among the Irish that they call it Irish Soda Bread. It's common to see the locals pair this famous bread with a bottle of Guinness too.

Is Irish soda bread bad for you? ›

Nutrition Notes

Whole-wheat soda bread is a healthy addition to your plate! One serving—a 1/2-inch-thick slice—provides complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.

What is traditionally served with Irish soda bread? ›

The thick and hearty nature of Irish soda bread helps it pair very well with meaty stews (especially Irish stew). You can use it to soak up the juices as you eat or as a vehicle for the meat and vegetables. Traditionally, Irish soda bread is served with a slow-simmered beef and barley stew.

Why does Irish soda bread not need yeast? ›

The baking soda does the job of yeast and makes the bread rise. Since it's not as powerful as yeast, the bread is dense rather than fluffy. It's beautiful and delicious!

How many days does Irish soda bread last? ›

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.

Why do you put a cross in Irish soda bread? ›

The Southern Irish regions bake their loaves in a classic round fashion and cut a cross on top of the bread. This was done for superstitious reasons, as families believed a cross on top of the bread would let the fairies out or ward off evil and protect the household.

Why are there raisins in Irish soda bread? ›

Plump raisins add pops of concentrated sweetness, but you could swap them out for any dried fruit, such as currants, sour cherries, or cranberries—or simply leave them out. No cast-iron pan? Form the dough into a round and bake it on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Is Irish soda bread the same as sourdough bread? ›

The main difference between sourdough bread and soda bread is in its leavening agent – sourdough bread rises due to the gasses released from yeast and bacteria fermentation, while soda bread rises from the gasses produced during the chemical interaction between baking soda and acids in the dough.

Why is Irish soda bread so good? ›

Buttermilk is the Secret

Irish soda bread only requires a few ingredients, including buttermilk. Buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to provide the bread's leavening. It also adds wonderful flavor!

Is Irish soda bread a desert? ›

This simple bread is made to be served as part of a meal like a hearty Irish stew. What is this? Sweet Irish soda bread has more ingredients like eggs, butter, sugar, dried fruits and seeds added so it's more of a dessert served on its own. This sweet Irish soda bread recipe is straight from Grandma's recipe tin.

Why is there a cross on Irish soda bread? ›

I was always told that the cross on the top of Irish Soda Bread was to symbolize the Catholic faith of Ireland, and the Gaelic Cross. Some say it kept the Devil out, but that is what a cross is supposed to do also. Turns out that is true but more importantly, it helps in the baking of the bread.

Why is the shape of Irish soda bread steeped in tradition? ›

The Southern Irish bake their loaves in the classic round shape and cut a cross on top. It is believed that a cross on top of bread would ward off evil and allow fairies to exit the dough.At the Inn on Bath Creek, our homemade Irish soda bread is just one example of the culinary treasures awaiting you each morning.

Was soda bread invented by Native Americans? ›

Its origins date back to Native Americans before European colonization. Native Americans made “soda bread” using ash (a forerunner to baking soda) instead of traditional leavening agents like yeast. Soda bread was adopted in Ireland in the 1800s due to increased poverty and hunger after the potato famine.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Stevie Stamm

Last Updated:

Views: 6431

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Stevie Stamm

Birthday: 1996-06-22

Address: Apt. 419 4200 Sipes Estate, East Delmerview, WY 05617

Phone: +342332224300

Job: Future Advertising Analyst

Hobby: Leather crafting, Puzzles, Leather crafting, scrapbook, Urban exploration, Cabaret, Skateboarding

Introduction: My name is Stevie Stamm, I am a colorful, sparkling, splendid, vast, open, hilarious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.