Most versions of soda bread seen in the United States are fancy, with lots of butter, sugar, raisins, and sometimes caraway seeds added for flavor and richness. Most versions of soda bread seen in the United States are fancy, with lots of butter, sugar, raisins, and sometimes caraway seeds added for flavor and richness. Really, however, traditional Irish soda bread is similar to a slightly dry version of a scone. It is very simple and needs a little butter and marmalade to make it more interesting. The versions of soda bread that follow are adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Darina Allen's Traditional Irish Cooking (Kyle Cathie, 1995). Darina runs a very highly regarded cooking school and country inn at Ballymaloe in Ireland and is rightly considered the top food authority of that country.

One 10-inch round loaf


4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
(spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (plus 1 to 2 tablespoons more if necessary)

One cookie sheet or jelly roll pan lined with parchment or foil

  1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
  2. Stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk.
  3. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the buttermilk into the flour mixture, scraping up from the bottom of the bowl and using a movement similar to that for folding in egg whites. The flour should be evenly moistened and form a soft dough. If there are dry spots of unmoistened flour after you have mixed in the buttermilk for about 15 seconds, add 1 to 2 additional tablespoons of buttermilk and mix gently again.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and fold it over on itself two or three times. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to the prepared pan. Press the dough into a 7-inch disk and cut a cross in the top of the dough that extends over the sides of the loaf, too. (Darina says that this is to let the fairies out!)
  5. Bake the soda bread until it begins to color, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 400 degrees. Continue baking until the loaf is dark golden and baked through, about 20 to 30 additional minutes. You can test the center for doneness with a toothpick.
  6. Slide the soda bread onto a rack to cool slightly before serving. If you want a crisp crust, leave the bread uncovered. If you prefer a tender crust, cover the bread with a towel as it is cooling.

Serving: Cut the soda bread into 1/2-inch slices and serve with butter and orange marmalade. Strong tea is the traditional beverage.

Storage: Keep the soda bread covered at room temperature. Leftovers may be sliced and toasted.