When I went in search of a traditional Irish Soda Bread, I discovered a couple of things. First, “traditional” soda bread recipes come in all sorts of varieties: with butter, eggs, caraway seeds or raisins. Second, traditionalists say there is nothing “traditional” about soda bread with butter, eggs, caraway seeds or raisins. Who am I to argue? I’m Scottish and the Scots put things like sugar and cream of tartar in theirs. Horror of horrors!!
The oldest soda bread recipe I came across was quoted in a site known as The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, and dated back to 1836. It said, “…put a pound and a half of good wheaten meal into a large bowl, mix with it two teaspoonfuls of finely-powdered salt, then take a large teaspoonful of super-carbonate of soda,% dissolve it in half a teacupful of cold water, and add it to the meal; rub up all intimately together, then pour into the bowl as much very sour buttermilk as will make the whole into soft dough (it should be as soft as could possibly be handled, and the softer the better,) form it into a cake of about an inch thickness, and put it into a flat Dutch oven or frying-pan, with some metallic cover, such as an oven-lid or griddle, apply a moderate heat underneath for twenty minutes, then lay some clear live coals upon the lid, and keep it so for half an hour longer (the under heat being allowed to fall off gradually for the last fifteen minutes,) taking off the cover occasionally to see that it does not burn.”
Frankly, I don’t know how anyone navigated recipes like this. I need a little more instruction. For instance, baking time and temperature would be helpful. However, when you’re cooking with hot coals, I guess eyeballing it is the way to go.
Anyway, for our traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, I followed the recipe below (adhering strictly to tradition, of course). The bread was wonderful; dense and comforting, still slightly warm from the oven. But eat it within a day or two because it doesn’t keep well much longer than that. Enjoy!
Traditional Irish Soda Bread (Courtesy Pennies on a Platter)
3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
12 ounces buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450˚F. Sprinkle flour onto the center of a baking sheet or stone. (I used my grandmother’s cast iron skillet)
In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour in all of the buttermilk at once. Starting in the center and working towards the outside of the bowl, use your hand to mix, stirring until fully incorporated (takes only seconds). Turn out onto a well-floured surface. Wash and dry your hands before continuing.
Flour your hands and gently roll out dough just enough to tidy it up. Flip the dough over and pat into a round about 1 1/2 inches deep. Place the loaf on top of the floured baking sheet/stone.
Using a sharp knife, cut a deep cross in the round loaf, making sure to let the cuts go over the sides of the bread.
Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 400˚F and let bake for another 20 minutes, or until just cooked. The bread is cooked with it lets a hollow sound while tapping the bottom. Cool on wire rack.
Kitchen Notes: Don’t cool entirely. This bread is best served a little warm…and it’s particularly good drizzled with honey or a little jam!