Irish soda bread has been popular in Ireland for hundreds of years. It started with the introduction of baking soda, which allowed people to make quick breads from just flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. Over time, additions to soda bread such as raisins, sugar and caraway seeds have made their way into modern American adaptations to classic soda bread traditions.
Baking soda interacts with the acidity of buttermilk to create the leavening agent in soda bread. Normally, you’d use yeast, but this way you don’t have to. Our recipe makes things even easier by eliminating the traditional buttermilk, which is the liquid left over after making butter. So what’s the best substitute for buttermilk? A simple combination of milk and vinegar will still get the reaction you need to make dough rise when baking, but you’re much more likely to have these ingredients on hand, so you can save a trip to the store.
Because soda bread is a quick bread it doesn’t get kneaded like traditional bread. Handle it as little as possible once you completely incorporate the ingredients. You’ll form it into two balls of dough for baking into rounds, lightly dust with flour and score the top into a cross. The scoring shape achieves multiple ends: it allows the heat to reach the thickest part of the bread more easily to facilitate even cooking and allows the crust to expand as the bread rises during the baking process. The scoring of the cross shape is even said to have religious meaning dating back hundreds of years in Irish history; you were “crossing” the bread and giving thanks.
This delicious bread has a long history for good reason: not only did it help Irish farmers sustain their energy in the fields long ago, it tastes great and is quick and easy to make. Prepare it for dinner, a potluck or brunch and be sure to serve it with a side of salted Irish butter. It’s best slathered with a generous portion.