Irish Raisin Soda Bread

Ireland is famous for delicious soda bread made with simple ingredients.  It gets its name from the bicarbonate of soda or baking soda used as the leavening agent.

My grandmother baked soda bread every weekday.  Sunday alone was her day of rest.  By the time I came to watch her mid-morning bread-making ritual as a little girl, her fingers were arthritic and gout-ridden.  Yet as I observed the rhythm of her toil, her hands never failed her.  She lovingly formed perfect dough, her fingers never forgetting the swirling, kneading motions she learned as a child.

We all loved Granny’s bread, especially when she made a “sweet cake.”  Traditional Irish soda bread is made with flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk, with no hint of sugary sweetness.  When we visited the farm from Dublin, Granny made her special bread by adding raisins or currants, butter, sugar and an egg to her basic soda bread ingredients.

We children loved this special treat, and my uncle savored it too.  When my mom made tea she would ask my uncle if he would like a biscuit (cookie in America) with it.

“I’ll have a cut of sweet cake with the tay,” he would reply.

SWEET CAKE!

My kids would laugh at the idea of using the term cake to describe bread containing only two or three tablespoons of sugar in the whole loaf.   My poor uncle if he was alive today, would look in horror at the luscious, frosting laden, sugary mess my kids call a treat.

He loved “sweet cake” dotted with raisins.  My family still love it too.  Here is my American version, which produces a loaf most like my granny’s bread of days gone by.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting kneading surface)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick)
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 egg
  • 1 and 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt

My granny never used plain yogurt in her version, but I find it helps keep the crust soft.  Irish flour is a little softer than American flour, so I have adapted my ingredient list to create the best bread I can in America.

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees F to preheat while you are making your bread.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.  I know many of you don’t bother sifting flour, but I like to do it.  I think it helps distribute the baking soda evenly.  My granny sifted her flour, so I cannot break with tradition.

Cut the stick of butter into 1/4 inch slices and add to the flour mixture.  Make sure to take the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before making the bread.

Rub the butter into the flour mixture using your clean fingers or a pastry cutter.  I always use my fingers, probably because it is how my mom and both my grandmothers did it.  I must admit, I don’t even own a pastry cutter.

The mixture should resemble coarse meal when finished rubbing in the butter.

Next add the sugar.

Toss in the raisins.   Feel free to add more if you like more fruit.  Guests of honor always got bread with extra raisins in my Granny’s house.

Mix it all together.  Take some time to inspect the mixture for any raisin clumps.  Pull them apart, if you find any stuck together.

In a separate bowl or pitcher whisk the buttermilk, egg and yogurt together.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in most of the liquid.  Hold back about a 1/4 cup of buttermilk until you start to mix.  Sometimes I use the whole amount, and sometimes a little less.  I think this may have something to do with humidity, or the weather on the day of baking.  Who knows?

My granny never measured the wet ingredients.  She just poured and mixed, her fingers knowing the exact amount by the texture of the dough she created.

Mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon or use your hands if you don’t mind getting messy.  Pull the dough into a round, and away from the sides of the bowl.

Lightly dust a clean, flat kneading surface with flour.  Lift the dough ball from the bowl onto the prepared surface. Knead the dough lightly to form a round.  Don’t overly knead it.  The bread will be tough if it is overworked.

Transfer the uncooked bread dough into a 9-inch round greased baking pan.  If the top of the loaf is very floury, brush it with a little buttermilk.  Score the top with a cross.  This helps create four quarters, or farls as they are called in northern Irish counties.

Granny would tell us this was to let the fairies out of the loaf.  Other days she would tell us she was marking it with a Sign of the Cross.

Bake the bread in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 30 to 45  minutes.  The bread is cooked when the bottom of the loaf is tapped and it makes a hollow sound.

This is a wide range for cooking time, but every oven seems to be different.  When I used an electric oven in Dallas, my bread took longer to cook than when using my gas oven here in Kentucky.  You can also test your bread by sticking a tooth pick in it or a clean knife.  They should come out clean when the bread is cooked.

If the bread starts to turn overly dark early in the cooking process, cover it with a tent of aluminum foil.

To cool the bread, wrap it in a clean dish towel and place it on a wire rack.  This swaddling helps to keep the crust soft by limiting the amount of steam evaporating as the bread cools.

When cooled cut the loaf into quarters and slice.  Serve slathered in butter and with a nice cup of tea.

Soda bread gets dry pretty quickly.  It is best served warm, fresh from the oven.  It only stays fresh for a day or two, but as it gets a little drier with time, I like to toast it.  To tell you the truth, my kids love this bread so much, a loaf seldom lasts long enough to grow stale in our house.

Wishing you all happy soda bread baking days!

Irish Raisin Soda Bread

Meal type Bread
Region Irish

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting kneading surface)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4oz butter (1 stick)
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 egg
  • 1 and 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt

Directions

Step 1 Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
Step 2 Using a pastry cutter or clean fingers rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
Step 3 Add the sugar and raisins and stir to distribute throughout the flour mixture.
Step 4 Stir the beaten egg, yogurt and buttermilk together in another bowl or pitcher.
Step 5 Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the liquid ingredients. Mix together with a wooden spoon to form a dough.
Step 6 Using your hand, lightly dusted with flour, gently knead the dough into a ball.
Step 7 Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead gently into a round form about 9 inches in diameter. Do not over knead. This creates a tough bread.
Step 8 Transfer to a lightly greased 9 inch baking pan. Score the top of the loaf with a cross shape to create four distinct quarters or farls.
Step 9 Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 30 minutes more. The loaf is baked when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Step 10 If the bread starts to brown too much early in the cooking process, cover it with a tent of aluminium foil.
Step 11 Remove the bread from the oven and the baking pan. Wrap the bread in a clean dish towel and allow to cool on a wire wrack.
Step 12 Serve sliced bread with butter.

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Comments

  1. I’m not a raisin lover, but this looks so yummy. Love how your granny said she cut the loaf to let the fairies out :)

    • Cheryl – I now use the same line for my little ones, when they ask me what I am doing when I score my bread. I love to watch their minds working overtime thinking of fairies escaping the bread.

      Mairead

  2. Theresa Barry Coffey says:

    I love hearing about everyone’s different traditions. My Aunt always says, “that’s the blessing” when she scores the top of the bread. Thanks so much for the recipes. I usually use the Odlum’s mix, but decided to give your recipes a try. (I don’t bake much at all.) I made 4 loaves of your brown bread today and managed not to burn the house down. They smell heavenly. By the way, my aunt (a Kerrywoman) taught me to use golden raisins rather than the regular. They look much nicer after cooking, and taste exactly the same. Just a personal preference I thought I’d share. Blessings of St. Patrick to you & yours!

    • Theresa – Thanks so much for your lovely comment. Sultanas is the name we use for golden raisins in Ireland. My mom uses half regular raisins and half sultanas when she makes her bread. I sometimes think golden raisins can be a little plumper than the regular ones, and they work great in this bread. I hope you enjoy your brown bread.

      Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you too. Best wishes!

      Mairead

  3. hey Mairead,

    i came across your blog while looking for recipes for Shepard’s pie.
    we tired your recipes for Irish Shepard’s pie and it was fantastic.
    i’m from Taiwan and my husband is Irish, we are living in the U.K.
    just wanted to say i love your blog
    quick question, is it ok to use self-raising flour when making soda bread?
    thank you

    • Hi Sarah – I would stick to plain flour for making soda bread. The buttermilk reacts with the baking soda helping the bread to rise. Self-raising flour has baking powder, not baking soda. It does not react with the acid of the buttermilk in the same way. If you use it in addition to the baking soda, you may have too much “raising power” which may cause the crust to split and crack.

      Hope this helps. Thanks so much fro visiting my blog and for your lovely comment. Best wishes.
      Mairead

    • Kathleen Barry says:

      Sarah–NO! Voice of experience. Do not use self-rising flour. It will rise beautifully when baking, then fall like a ton of bricks and be too moist and soggy. That’s how I discovered the difference between self-rising flour and non. :) Kathleen Barry (Theresa Barry Coffey’s Mom)

  4. Wonderful recipe. Is there any chance it would work by placing the dough in loaf pans?

    • Shannon – This bread will bake beautifully in a loaf pan. This volume of dough will probably fill a one and a half pound loaf pan. I know it is too big for a 9-inch long loaf pan I own. It might make two 7-inch loaves, but that is just my best guess. I have never tried splitting it between two smaller pans. Hope this helps.
      Mairead

  5. Greetings!
    I came across your blog looking for Irish potato pancakes to make with leftover colcannon. I also have a blog, http://www.mycatholickitchen.com/2012/11/colcannon.html I made colcannon for Thanksgiving and was looking for ways to use up the leftovers.love the site!

  6. Oh, Mairead. I so looked forward to making your soda bread, but when I did it was a disaster. It looked good, just like your picture, but was totally raw inside. I didn’t include the yogurt so increased the buttermilk to 2 cups. Could this be the problem? With this much liquid, should it have cooked longer? Perhaps you should include in your instructions sticking toothpicks or a knife in the center to test if done. I had to throw out the entire loaf.

    • Kathleen – Thank you so much for letting me know about your bread disaster. I think you may have used too much buttermilk. Without the yogurt 1 and 3/4 cups is usually plenty. The yogurt helps keep the crust soft as the bread cooks. I like your suggestion of adding a tip about testing the bread with a knife or tooth pick before taking it out. Tapping the bottom to test if it is done is difficult if you are not accustomed to the hollow sound of a cooked soda bread. Also, oven temperatures can vary. I often think my gas oven here in Kentucky is warmer and cooks faster than the electric one I had in Dallas. I think I will put in a range of time for cooking the loaf, because it seems to vary. Thanks again for your comment and best wishes for 2013.
      Mairead

  7. Thank you for such wonderful recipes. I made your Guinness stew and soda bread for my annual St Patricks Day party last night and everyone raved about both. I had another soda bread recipe from an old 70’s Irish cookbook that I have been making for years, but yours was SO much better. Looked just like your picture! I have a bunch of Dubliner cheese leftover from the party..and recommendations on a recipe for that?

    • Lisa – I am delighted to hear my soda bread and Guinness beef stew were a hit at your St. Patrick’s Day party. It’s so good to hear from readers and get their seal of approval for my recipes. I love Dubliner cheese. It’s flavor can be a little strong for most American palates, but for someone like me who was raised on the sharpest of the sharp Irish cheddar cheese, it is always a treat. I like to make Mac and Cheese for my kids using it, but once again it creates a very cheesy flavor. Another use is to top your mashed potatoes on a shepherd’s or cottage pie. It also works great in appetizers like potato bites, or it can give a really sharp flavor to the filling in twice baked potatoes. I must make some of my Dubliner cheese creations and photograph them to share the recipes on this blog.
      Best wishes to you and yours for a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.
      Mairéad

  8. I’m baking your Irish Soda Bread now, it smell’s awesome! Can’t wait to try your Brown Bread tomorrow, for St. Patrick’s, it will go great with Corn beef and Cabbage !

  9. Mairead, I baked your soda bread for St Patrick’s Day dinner and I have to tell you it is so very good… the best we ever ate… we even had a slice for breakfast today… Thank you for sharing it….

    • Joe – I am so glad you liked this soda bread. It is a favorite in my house too, and a bread I love to bake. Forming and kneading this dough brings back happy childhood memories.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  10. A local Irish store in town is having a contest for the best soda bread for saint patrick, so I am going to enter your soda bread! wish me luck! I will let you know if I win!

  11. Sheila McTeague says:

    Can you use a butter spread like country crock with the flour instead of sticks of butter?

    • Sheila – Country Crock is a little too soft for rubbing into the flour. The fats in a butter spread won’t work as well as real butter for the texture of the bread. If you do want to try this recipe with a butter spread to avoid saturated fat, you would need to melt the spread and add it with the wet ingredients, rather than rubbing it into the flour. I can’t give any guarantees about the outcome.
      All the best,
      Mairead

      • Sheila McTeague says:

        Thanks Mairead for your reply. I decided to wait and get the regular butter and do it right. My mother in law made the bread the same way. I’m going to try and get it down at least by St Patricks Day. With parade and a Celli I’m going to pretty busy for now.
        I’ll let you know how it comes out.

  12. I made the Irish Soda Bread in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day and it’s a hit among my friends! I love it so much that I nearly ate the entire first loaf! Your granny was a brilliant woman! I plan on making this for years to come!

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  13. So, made your irish soda bread and Guiness beef stew again this year for my St. Patricks Party. Huge, huge hit again.. Sent multiple women to your site for the recipes. Also had to make 2 loaves this year since the first loaf disappeared pretty much immediately at last years party. Thanks for making me look good every March 17th!

Trackbacks

  1. […] The recipe I have tried you can find it at http://www.irishamericanmom.com/2012/03/08/irish-raisin-soda-bread/ […]

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