Classic Irish soda bread, made with white flour and studded with raisins, is surprisingly easy to make! If you want something healthier, check out my whole wheat Irish soda bread recipe.
This means a few things: 1) It’s my birthday month 2) I might be able to drive home from work without turning my headlights on in a few weeks 3) St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner!
St. Patrick’s Day has always been a big deal around here. Growing up, I was an Irish Step Dancer so March was jam-packed with festivals, parades, and shows. My favorites were always the small St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at schools and churches because they’d usually have a table of food set out for everyone to enjoy.
I always made a beeline straight for the Irish soda bread. Slathered with butter, nothing can top it.
To make soda bread, you only need a few simple ingredients. I bet you have most of these in your kitchen already!
Traditional soda bread is very plain, and doesn’t have any mix-ins. I added raisins to this bread since that’s how most people I know make it here in America. They add a little bit of sweetness, along with some moisture that keeps the bread from being too dry. Dried currants are also a great option!
To make this bread, you’ll need:
- Baking soda
- Unsalted butter
- Buttermilk (or milk and white vinegar)
Caraway or No Caraway?
Sometimes you’ll see caraway in soda bread, but it can be pretty polarizing.
I personally love it with both caraway and raisins, but I know a lot of people really hate caraway so I left it out.
If you like that earthy rye-like flavor, definitely feel free to add a tablespoon or two of caraway seeds to your batter.
Using baking soda to help bread rise
There are a few things that make the process of making soda bread really interesting.
First, unlike yeast bread, quick bread like soda bread uses baking soda to help it rise. That’s also where it gets its name.
Recipes that rely on baking soda for leavening need an acidic ingredient for it to react with. Think back to the baking soda and vinegar volcanoes you used to make in elementary school – it’s basically the same idea, only that reaction happens inside the bread, giving it lift and making the dough rise.
In this recipe, that acidic element comes from buttermilk. In a pinch, you can use regular milk mixed with two tablespoons of white vinegar. Mix them together in a small dish and let it sit for about 5 minutes before adding it to your recipe. The milk will curdle and thicken slightly – don’t worry, it’s supposed to do that!
Cutting flour into butter
The second unique thing about making Irish soda bread is that you’ll want to cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients so it forms little clumps that look almost like wet sand.
If you’ve ever made scones, this process will be familiar to you. If you think about it, soda bread is basically just a giant scone! Maybe that’s why it’s so good.
These little chunks of butter will melt in the heat of the oven, leaving air pockets behind. That keeps the bread from being too dense – and ensured there’s plenty of flavor in every bite.
The easiest way to cut butter into flour is with a pastry blender. If you don’t have one, a food processor also works well. A few pulses are all you need! You can also literally cut the butter into the flour by dragging two knives across it in opposite directions.
More Irish recipe ideas for St. Patrick’s Day
Of course, you can also never go wrong with corned beef. If you want to try corning your own brisket, I love this recipe from Alton Brown.
Classic Irish Soda Bread with Raisins
- 4 cups all-purpose flour divided
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 1¾ cups cold buttermilk shaken
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1 cup raisins
- Heat your oven to 375F. Line a Dutch oven with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
- Add 4 cups of flour to a large bowl. Mix in the sugar, baking soda and salt.
- Add the raisins to a second bowl and mix in about 2 teaspoons the flour mixture, coating the raisins well. This will help them from settling on the bottom of the bread. Set aside.
- Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into the flour mixture. Until it resembles coarse sand.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the raisins.
- Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface and give it a few kneads, until it comes together. Shape the dough into a ball and place onto the prepared pan. Using a sharp knife, make a large X on the top of the bread.
- Bake for about 45-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when you tap on it.
- Serve warm or store in an airtight container at room temperature.