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A traditional Irish soda bread recipe has only four ingredients - flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. My favorite Irish Soda Bread recipe is a slightly updated version of the classic, with a little sugar, butter, an egg, and currants or raisins added to it for improved texture and flavor. It's absolutely delicious served warm with fresh Irish butter slathered on each slice.
Don't just make this Irish soda bread recipe on St. Patrick's Day, but year round!
I love St. Patrick's day. And for no particular reason, I guess. It is just such a charming, fun holiday. It also helps that I am predominantly Irish and live in Dublin. Dublin, California, not Dublin, Ireland, to be clear.
But still, we have a big St. Patrick's Day parade and festival every year and the hills surrounding us are a gorgeous emerald color every Winter and Spring when the rains come.
A few years ago we did DNA testing to determine each of our genetic make-ups. I was actually surprised to learn that I was roughly 34% Irish, which beat out the Scottish, Danish, and English ancestry that I had always thought dominated in my family lines.
I know that's not a ton of diversity, but it was still fascinating to learn I had such strong ties to the Emerald Isle. Ever since then, I have found I enjoy making Irish recipes like this Irish soda bread.
Sometimes I make plain Irish soda bread, while other times I feel like gussying it up by adding raisins or currants (currants are just a smaller, specific type of raisin). Either way is delicious, but this time around I wanted Irish soda bread with currants, so that's what I made and photographed for this post.
A Historically Hungry Brief History of Irish Soda Bread
My friend Jenni from The Gingered Whisk and I have been doing an ongoing series that we call "Historically Hungry" where we take old recipes and make them new. For this installment, we wanted to do historical Irish recipes to inspire you for the upcoming holiday! She has an amazing sounding Slow Cooker Irish Potato Soup that you need to check out!
The rise of Irish soda bread really came about during the Irish potato famine from 1845-1849. Between 20-25% of Ireland's population died from famine or immigrated during that period, which is difficult to comprehend. Because the potato supply was compromised thanks to the blight, the Irish, especially the poor Irish, turned to this simple unleavened bread to get by. Irish soda bread doesn't keep well, so it was made almost daily in homes.
Traditionally, Irish soda bread has a cross cut into the top of the bread to "let the devil out". Which is quite a fun, colorful story to tell, but the real reason for the cuts in the top is so that the thick bread can cook through easily.
Less traditional Irish soda bread recipes will include things like spices, orange zest, of Guinness beer to add flavor and pizzazz to the loaf. The impoverished Irish of the potato famine years would never have had the resources to include such additions. But they do make for delicious, special loaves of soda bread.
I add just a small amount of sugar, butter, egg, and currants or raisins to the simple dough just to make it a little sweeter and richer, but you could leave all those extras out and just make the recipe using the measurements given for the flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt and have a totally traditional Irish soda bread that would still be good slathered with butter and jam.
What is Irish Soda Bread Served With?
In Ireland, soda bread would be eaten at breakfast with tea, at lunch with cold meat or cheese, or at dinner with soup or stew or other main dishes. I think it's especially delicious with Dublin coddle or minestrone soup (totally not Irish, but still very delicious when paired with this filling, wonderful bread.
How to Make Irish Soda Bread
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, soda, salt, and currants or raisins (if using). Stir together using a wooden spoon.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, butter, and buttermilk together with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and stir everything together just until the flour is moistened and things are starting to come together but the dough is still very shaggy.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly a few times with floured hands until it comes together. I like to do this on a cutting board because it keeps my counters clean and it makes it easy to then slide the shaped dough into whatever pan I'm using to bake the bread.
- Pat dough into a round shape and transfer to a lightly greased cast iron pan or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut an "X" about an inch deep into the top of the loaf using a sharp knife.
- Bake in a preheated 425 degree F oven for 40-45 minutes until browned on top and baked through. Check for doneness by inserting a wooden skewer into the middle of the bread to test and see if it comes out clean.
- Serve the Irish soda bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted. It's easier to slice once it has completely cooled, but it's pretty near impossible to resist warm bread at our house.
- Wrap completely cooled bread in plastic wrap if planning to freeze the bread, or eat within a day or two since this bread is best fresh.
Tips for the Best Irish Soda Bread
- Irish soda bread is best when made fresh, but it can be made 1-2 days in advance, then cooled completely and wrapped with plastic wrap. To warm it up the next day, just unwrap it and heat in a 325 degree F over for 10-15 minutes.
- Irish soda bread freezes well for up to 2-3 months. Just be sure to wrap it well and store in a freezer safe bag. When ready to eat, thaw and reheat in the oven.
- It's traditional to bake Irish soda bread in a cast iron pan, but if you don't have one you can just use a parchment lined baking sheet. I used a cast iron skillet, but a dutch oven would also work with the lid off.
- Irish soda bread really does taste best with really fantastic Irish butter like Kerrygold. This isn't sponsored, it's just amazingly delicious stuff that has a flavor that you will definitely notice when spread on fresh Irish soda bread.
More Irish Recipes for St. Patrick's Day
- Colcannon [Irish Mashed Potatoes & Cabbage]
- Creamy Leek and Potato Soup
- Sticky Toffee Pudding
- Dublin Coddle
- Bangers and Mash and Onion Gravy
- Corned Beef and Cabbage
- Shepherd's Pie
Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup currants or raisins optional
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- ¼ cup butter mostly melted
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly spray an oven safe skillet with cooking spray or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, soda, salt, and currants or raisins (if using). Stir together to evenly disperse the ingredients.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, butter, and buttermilk together with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and stir together with a spoon or fork just until combined but still very shaggy. It might not seem like enough liquid but resist the temptation to overwork the dough by stirring until completely combined.
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly a few times with floured hands until it comes together, but again, try not to overwork the dough. The flour should be just moistened but the dough should still be quite shaggy.
- Pat dough into a round shape and place in prepared cast iron pan or on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cut an "X" about an inch deep into the top of the loaf using a sharp knife.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes until browned on top and baked through. Check for doneness by inserting a wooden skewer into the middle of the bread to test it. If it comes out clean, the bread is done.
- Let the loaf of bread cool a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Serve bread warm or at room temperature. It's easier to slice once it has completely cooled, but I can never resist just tearing off a big chunk to eat while still warm with lots of butter on it.