Irish Brown Soda Bread

by Karen on Monday, March 14, 2011

Post image for Irish Brown Soda Bread

Despite the popularity of Saint Patrick's Day around the world, few of us really know the origins of this Irish holiday.  For Americans, March 17th seems to be a day that commemorates leprechauns, shamrocks, heavy drinking and creative uses of green dye (did you know the Chicago River is dyed green each year for the celebration?!). But what does all this folderol have anything to do with Saint Patrick himself? Very little.

In fact, Patrick was likely not his name and sources say that he was born Maewyn Succat, the son of an Italian father and a Scots mother. He was born in Roman Britain around 400 AD and was kidnapped by Irish slave traders when he was fifteen and brought to the island to work as a shepherd. After 6 years, he managed to escape back to Britain and became a priest and then a bishop. After having a vision of the Irish people begging him to return, he went back around 432 and started converting thousands of pantheistic Celts to Christianity and founded numerous churches. He died in 480 of natural causes although had survived an attempted assassination by poisoned cheese.

The more typical foods eaten on Saint Patrick's Day, corned beef and cabbage and such, also seem to have no relevance to Saint Patrick. Far from beef, he likely preferred lobster. He also carried around with him a plentiful supply of garlic throughout his travels in Ireland. However, foods eaten on March 17th such as corned beef and Irish stew do reflect contemporary Irish food traditions. One such staple is Irish soda bread, a yeast-less bread leavened with baking soda.

One of the earliest breads in Ireland was likely made of crushed grains and water. All kinds of grains were used to make this early “brown bread” from rye to buckwheat to barley. The popularity of white store-bought bread in the 19th century turned brown bread into a sign of poverty, but nowadays, this kind of bread is in favor again due to its authenticity and nutritional value. This bread is incredibly easy to make and has a hearty rich flavor from the whole wheat and buttermilk. I've topped mine here with some butter and smoked salmon but this versatile bread can accompany pretty much anything.

– 4 cups of wheat flour, preferably Irish style
– 1 cup of white flour, preferably Irish style  (if you cannot find Irish style flour which is softer than American wheat, you can substitute with pastry flour.  Be sure to buy unbleached, stone-ground and organic if possible)
– 1/2 cup of Irish steel-cut oats or oat bran
– 1 tsp baking soda
–  1 tsp of kosher salt
– 2-3 cups of cold buttermilk
– unsalted butter for greasing

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet with the butter.

Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the oats, baking soda and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the mixture and gradually pour in 2 cups of buttermilk, slowly stirring with a wooden spoon towards the outer edge of the bowl.  This recipe is flexible to buttermilk amounts so continue to add more until the consistency is correct.  The dough shouldn't be wet (just slightly tacky) and there should be no raw flour.  I used about 2 1/4 cups of buttermilk.  Be careful not to over mix.

Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, form the dough into a round disk about 3 inches thick.  Place onto the greased baking sheet and score a cross on the top with a knife.

Bake for about 45-60 minutes until it is nicely browned and the bottom sounds hallow when tapped.  It's better to slightly overbake the bread than underbake it because if you cut into your bread and it is still raw on the inside, it is hard to salvage.  Enjoy with some butter or smoked fish!

(Recipe from The Country Cooking of Ireland)



Turkey's For Life March 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I love soda bread. It’s years since I’ve had some. Thanks for the reminder that St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us. Forgot all about that. These days in England, people celebrate St. Pat’s Day more than they do St. George’s. Maybe it’s all that Guinness that does it! 🙂

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen March 15, 2011 at 2:55 am

I always find it interesting that the foods we eat and a lot of our holiday traditions don’t actually relate to anything historically. I never knew much about St. Patrick’s Day except for the commercialized stuff so this was great to read.

Belinda @zomppa March 15, 2011 at 6:02 am

Thanks for the history! I didn’t know that about the poisoned cheese….beautiful bread – especially with that salmon!

Sasha - Global Table Adventure March 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

My mom once had an Irish friend who brought over Soda Bread for us kids to eat (devour). Hers had raisins in it and was absolutely wonderful. One loaf never made it in our house more than an hour.

Sasha - Global Table Adventure March 15, 2011 at 7:53 am

Whoops. Hit submit too soon. Your version looks wonderful – especially with that bit of butter. Perfection! Wish I had some for breakfast 🙂

Beth (OMG! Yummy) March 15, 2011 at 8:30 am

You had me interested at “yeastless” 🙂 Might just have to try this out. Interesting historical info. Thanks for sharing.

Eliana March 15, 2011 at 9:22 am

This post makes me want some carbs!!! Happy early Saint Paddy’s!!!

elle marie March 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I still have such a fear at attempting these rustic breads, but this looks stunning and the butter pat with the smoked salmon.. I can almost taste it, I love the rustic and simplicity in flavors of soda bread, but it’s quite a process to make?

Karen March 17, 2011 at 7:41 am

This is SO easy to make!

Jennifer (Delicieux) March 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I love Irish Soda bread. Yours looks so delicious.

Thanks for the bit of history too. Despite my Irish Grandfather I didn’t actually know the history behind St Patricks day.

Lentil Breakdown March 17, 2011 at 12:44 am

Bread looks very tasty! When I read this, I pictured a block of cheese holding a gun! The poison made him do it!
… although had survived an attempted assassination by poisoned cheese.

Karen March 17, 2011 at 7:44 am

Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone– sounds like everyone learned a little something about St Patrick!

the urban baker March 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

Irish Soda Bread is on my list.And with today being St. Paddy’s day, I better saunter off to the kitchen. Looks yummy. So afraid I am going to eat the whole thing!

Karen March 19, 2011 at 7:35 pm

I had that problem too!

tasteofbeirut March 18, 2011 at 8:49 am

I would love garlic and lobster too! Nice photos of Ireland and you made me yearn for a fresh loaf of that bread coming out of the oven!

Keith Gaughan May 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Corned beef is most definitely completely foreign to Ireland. In fact, it’s actually an Americanism. Here in Ireland, we’ve always eaten bacon. Irish immigrants to the US switched to corned beef as it was much easier for them to get their hands on.

Karen May 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I didn’t know that– thanks!

Robyn May 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

One comment: Corned beef is NOT a traditional Irish meal in Ireland, where very little beef is produced. It began with Irish immigrants in the U.S. Many of them were living in poverty, and back then, corned beef was one of the cheapest cuts of meat available.

Lisa September 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I’m way late to the party on this one, but Robyn, Ireland is a huge producer of beef! Irish people eat lots of beef and corned beef is a traditional meal here, I ate it all the time growing up. It’s just not traditional for St. Patrick’s day.

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