An unconventional soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day

Irish soda bread is a quick bread, meaning it doesn’t require any yeast or kneading to rise. Instead, it relies on baking soda and buttermilk interacting for leavening. When the ingredients are combined, the leavening process starts immediately, so the dough must be mixed quickly – hence the nickname “fast bread”. It should not be overworked or the bread will be hard.

Given its nature, it seems that an Irish soda bread would make a suitable recipe for a St. Patrick’s Day posting. But after some research, it turns out that what we know as Irish soda bread in the US is not real Irish bread. In Ireland, soda bread is a term for any bread leavened with baking soda (in there it is called bread soda). The method originated in the 19th century, when baking powder was introduced and before ovens were widely used. At that time, soda breads could be cooked over the fire in cast-iron pots with lids.

Soda breads were and are efficient and simple four-ingredient brown or white breads or flat grilled breads. The now-familiar additions of butter, raisins, and currants were considered a luxury for special occasions.

Having said all that, you can call it an unconventional or Americanized version if you like. Whatever the nickname, the dish is delicious—especially when coated with (more) butter and eaten out of the oven.

Irish Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf


4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup of raisins

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)

1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour with your fingers to form coarse crumbs. Stir in the raisins and cumin seeds, if using.

Whisk the buttermilk and egg in a bowl. Open the middle of the flour like a pool and pour the buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, mix until the dough comes together. If the dough is too wet, add some more flour. The dough should be slightly sticky.

Dust your hands with flour and briefly knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface to form an 8 to 9 inch wide fluffy ball. Transfer the dough to the baking tray. Make an X-shaped incision at the top with a sharp knife.

Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the bread is golden and a bamboo skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. (If the bread starts to brown too much before it’s done, cover it lightly with foil.)

Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer.