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.
Irish Soda Bread Recipe
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 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!
What is Irish Soda Bread?
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.
Ingredients for Irish Soda Bread
- Flour - Regular all-purpose flour is great for this recipe.
- Sugar - A little granulated sugar adds just the right amount of sweetness without being overpowering.
- Baking soda & baking powder
- Salt - So the soda bread doesn’t turn out bland.
- Currants - Dried currants are smaller than raisins and give a fruity, chewy element to the soda bread that we love.
- Caraway seeds - These are optional, but they make for such a flavorful bread that I almost never leave them out anymore.
- Eggs - For binding, texture, and taste.
- Buttermilk - This tangy, rich ingredient makes for the best tasting bread.
- Butter - I use salted butter in almost all my baking. If you are using unsalted butter, be sure to add an extra pinch of salt to the dough.
Soda Bread Recipe substitutions and additions
- Buttermilk substitute - If you are in a pinch and don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a measuring cup and then fill it the rest of the way with milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes before using in place of buttermilk.
- Raisins - If you have trouble finding dried currants, raisins are a good substitute.
- Whole grains - Mix in whole grains like oats, wheat germ, or bran to add texture and a nutty flavor to your soda bread. These additions also make the bread more nutritious.
- Nuts - Chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans, can be added for extra crunch and a hint of nutty flavor.
- Cheese - For a savory twist, incorporate shredded cheddar, Irish cheddar, or another type of cheese into the dough. Cheese and Irish soda bread go surprisingly well together.
- Herbs - Fresh or dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, or chives can be mixed into the dough for a savory, aromatic bread.
- Spices - Add warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice for a sweet and spiced variation of Irish soda bread, often referred to as "spiced soda bread."
- Sunflower seeds - Sunflower seeds provide a pleasant crunch and a slightly nutty flavor.
- Orange zest - Grated orange zest can add a citrusy brightness to your bread, complementing the sweetness of the dough.
- Whole wheat flour - You can use a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flour to make the bread heartier and more nutritious.
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.
How to eat Irish Soda Bread
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 store Irish Soda Bread
Keep any uneaten soda bread on the counter at room temperature either covered with a cloth or in an airtight container for 3-4 days. It’s best eaten fresh the day it is made, but it is awfully good toasted for a few days after.
Can you freeze Irish Soda Bread?
Yes, you can freeze the loaf of Irish soda bread, or individual slices. Either way, be sure to wrap the bread tightly in plastic wrap, then store in a freezer-safe airtight bag or container for up to 2 months. Let thaw completely and reheat in a warm oven or the toaster before enjoying.
Best Irish Soda Bread Recipe FAQs
The most practical reason for cutting a cross into the top of Irish soda bread is to help it bake evenly. The cross allows heat to penetrate the center of the dough during baking, ensuring that the bread cooks through properly. Without the cross, the center of the bread might remain doughy or undercooked while the outer portions are done.
But there is also a traditional and symbolic aspect to the cross. Many believe that the cross cut into the bread is a way to bless and protect the loaf from evil spirits. In a predominantly Catholic country like Ireland, it's common for people to make a sign of the cross before and after cutting the bread. Some also see the cross as representing the four quarters of the year, tying the bread to the agricultural cycles of Ireland.
So, while the cross on Irish soda bread is functional in ensuring even baking, it also carries cultural and symbolic significance in Irish tradition. It's a lovely tradition that has been passed down through generations and is still common in Irish households today.
Yes, Irish soda bread is often best when eaten warm or at least fresh out of the oven. When it's still warm, the crust is crisp, and the inside is soft and tender. The aroma and taste are at their peak during this time. Many people enjoy Irish soda bread with a generous spread of butter, which melts into the warm bread, making it even more delicious.
However, you can also enjoy Irish soda bread at room temperature or even toasted. It can be sliced and toasted for breakfast or served alongside soups and stews. Some people also use it for making sandwiches. While it may lose some of the warmth and initial crispness, it still retains its distinctive flavor and texture.
If your Irish soda bread is very dry, chances are it was simply baked too long, or it is a day or two old.
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
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Best Irish Soda Bread
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled (500g)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups currants or raisins (optional)
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
- ½ cup butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an oven safe 9-inch skillet with cooking spray or line a baking sheet, pie plate, or cake pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and currants or raisins and caraway seeds (if using). Stir together to evenly disperse the ingredients.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and butter. 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. Knead 10-12 times in the bowl with a spatula or by hand to combine. The dough will be sticky.
- 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 65-75 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.