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Robert Ditty's Irish Soda Bread
Traditional Irish soda bread does not have dried fruit in it, although if you wish, you may add some to this recipe. This is Robert Ditty's recipe; he's widely regarded as the best baker in all of Ireland. His bakery is located in the town of Castledawson in Londonderry.
- 4 Cups white flour, plus more kneading the dough
- 1 Teaspoon baking soda
- 1 Teaspoon baking powder
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 Cups buttermilk
- Currants, raisins, or other dried fruit, to taste (optional)
- Butter, for greasing the pie pan and serving
Irish soda bread: Not actually Irish?
In the United States, "Irish soda bread" generally means a somewhat sweet white bread made with eggs and butter and studded with raisins and caraway seeds — the "soda" in the name comes from the baking soda (or "bread soda" in Ireland) used to leaven it instead of yeast and kneading. But some people, like the founders of the U.S.-based Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, insist that there's nothing Irish about this bread — that it's an American invention or at least a corruption of the Irish original.
To get the straight story, Epicurious turned to chef and cooking teacher Rory O'Connell. O'Connell trained with Myrtle Allen at Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, East Cork, Ireland, and later became head chef at the restaurant (the post was taken over by Jason Fahey in late 2004, when O'Connell left for a stint with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse). O'Connell also founded the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School with his sister, Darina Allen, in 1983 — both continue to teach there and are regarded as two of the foremost experts on Irish cuisine and food history.
Epicurious: What is traditional Irish soda bread?
Rory O'Connell: What we would consider to be a basic table bread — what we call a brown soda bread, which is made with whole-meal flour, or a white soda bread, which is with white flour — is just flour, bread soda, buttermilk, and salt. That's the basic recipe. The white flour would have been more refined than the whole-meal flour, so that would have been for a slightly more special occasion.
Epicurious: What is the history of soda bread?
Rory O'Connell: Bread soda was introduced in the early 1800s and it suddenly meant that people who didn't have an oven — and virtually nobody had an oven then — could make soda bread. They cooked the bread in what's called a bastible — a big cast-iron pot with a lid on it that would have been put right onto the coals or onto the turf fire. The great thing about soda is that it was not so perishable and it would have been relatively inexpensive. And they would have had buttermilk from the cows [old-fashioned buttermilk is a by-product of making butter] and they would have been growing wheat, so they would have had flour.
Epicurious: When did variations on the basic soda bread recipe begin to develop?
Rory O'Connell: You can't really put dates on them. But say, for example, having seeds in soda bread — a lot of people would completely raise their eyebrows at the idea of there being seeds in soda bread. However, the reality is that in Donegal and Leitrim there was a tradition of putting caraway seeds in bread. The likelihood is that the tradition was taken by immigrants to America.
Epicurious: What about the raisins?
Rory O'Connell: The raisins or the sultanas or whatever the dried fruit was would have been a luxury item. They would have been put into the white-flour version of the bread at the time of the year when the harvest was going on as a treat for the men who were working. The woman of the house who was making the bread would have put in a fistful of raisins or currants and then perhaps a little bit of sugar and an egg if she had either or both to spare.
Epicurious: So butter would not have been put into the bread?
Rory O'Connell: Absolutely not. But it would have been slathered liberally on the cooked bread. Yum, yum.
Epicurious: Noreen Kinney's soda bread recipe from A Baker's Odyssey contains flaxseeds, oat bran, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds. Is that traditional?
Rory O'Connell: No. Definitely not. Sunflower seeds? Ireland? Climate? [he laughs] They weren't grown here. However, wheat or oat bran, perhaps. Wheat germ, maybe.
Epicurious: You don't knead soda bread, do you?
Rory O'Connell: That's absolutely correct. You mix it to get the ingredients to come together with the minimum amount of handling. It's entirely simple to make but should be handled with great gentleness and care. The more you handle it, the tougher it gets. And that's a bit frustrating really, because it feels nice.
Epicurious: What is the purpose of cutting the shape of a cross on top of the bread?
Rory O'Connell: It's scientific, primarily, because it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, so it assists cooking. And obviously the cross is a cruciform shape, so in a Catholic country that had a resonance — it had the symbolic note of crossing the breads and giving thanks. There was also the expression "to let the devil out of the bread," so it was slightly superstitious. And if you make that cruciform shape on the bread, when it comes out of the oven it breaks beautifully. So you've got the blessing of the bread by putting the cross on it and then you've got the symbolic breaking of the bread.
Epicurious: Is soda bread still eaten in Ireland today?
Rory O'Connell: You can buy brown soda bread in most shops — it's a fairly standard bread item made by commercial bakers right down to artisan bakers. Some of it is good and some of it is awful. White soda bread is less usual. It's not that it's not there, but it's less usual.
Epicurious: What about the version with butter, raisins, and caraway?
Rory O'Connell: No. That would be regarded as being some sort of exotic bread that wasn't Irish.
Epicurious: What is your personal opinion about soda bread variations?
Rory O'Connell: I think some are fine. I love plain white soda bread or brown soda bread, but [at Ballymaloe] we also do variations on the theme, using that simple, easy-to-prepare recipe as a vehicle for adding other ingredients — cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion, garlic. But then we don't say, "This is an Irish soda bread with sun-dried tomatoes." We say, "It's a sun-dried tomato bread made on an Irish soda bread base." But in a way I don't mind too much what people are doing with it as long as they're baking.
Epicurious: Do you find that more people are baking at home?
Rory O'Connell: There certainly is a resurgence of artisan bakers, and that's a direct result of the farmers' markets. There's definitely a renewed interest in cooking, partly for health reasons. The penny has dropped about the connection between good food and good health. And it is also partially to do with the economic situation we're in here. And I also think slowly there's a realization — maybe this is just me — of the therapeutic effects of cooking and what it can do in a home in terms of creating a positive atmosphere. It's great for children to see it. Traditions are passed on. If you give a child a bowl of flour and some buttermilk and some salt and a bit of bread soda and a little bit of instruction, they can make bread! On Saturday morning now we're doing cooking classes for children. One of the things we show them is the Irish white soda bread dough and then they make little breads and scones out of that and then we show them how to make a simple pizza base using that and they make little focaccias, all sorts of things. They adore it and they're good at it.
To learn more about Rory O'Connell and Ballymaloe Cookery School, go to rgoconnell.com and cookingisfun.ie.
Our favorite soda bread recipes:
This is the classic Irish-American version with sugar, butter, and eggs.
This very healthy variation has whole grains, as well as flax and sunflower seeds.
Walnuts add crunch and richness to these miniature loaves.
Oats, browned butter, rosemary, and ground black pepper enrich this bread.
A far cry from the basic master recipe, this loaf has butter, chocolate, and candied orange peel.
- 4 cups Unbleached Flour
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 tablespoon Baking Powder
- 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1/4 cup Sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon Minced Cardamon
- 1/4 cup Butter
- 1 Egg (at room temperature)
- 1 3/4 cup Buttermilk (at room temperature)
- 1 1/2 cup Currants
- 2 teaspoons Lemon Peel/Zest (grated)
Cut this crusty bread into wedges to serve. Origin: Hearth and Home Companion, shared by Sarah.
How to Make Irish Soda Bread
Grease two large loaf pans. Make sure to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until pea sized chunks appear. Add the raisins and stir to distribute.
In a liquid measuring cup, add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk gently until the egg is lightly beaten and no goopy strands remain. Why do it in the measuring cup? Because that&rsquos one less dish to clean!
Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir gently until just combined.
This makes a very thick batter. Don&rsquot be like my daughter&rsquos home ec class that didn&rsquot trust a recipe and added flour because it looked too runny. They ended up with dry cupcakes. It&rsquos supposed to be this thick!
Turn into the two loaf pans, and cut across the top lengthwise. This allows your bread to rise and bake properly as it is such a thick batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Remove from the oven once your cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs.
Butter the top when it comes out of the oven. Lay your loaf pan on one side for a few minutes, then the opposite side for a few minutes. After both sides, remove from the pan and continue cooling on a wire rack.
Enjoy warm or room temperature. This will keep for a few days but is best within the first two days. Store unsliced in an airtight container.
Ditty's version of Irish soda bread is simple and authentic. Soda bread, for those who aren't familiar with it, gets its name from the fact that baking soda is used as the leavening agent instead of yeast. According to Colman Andrews, editorial director at The Daily Meal and author of The Country Cooking of Ireland, the use of baking soda in baked goods did not exist in Ireland until 1846, when two New York bakers came to visit. Today, their companies are a household name — Arm & Hammer. Without them, Irish soda bread as we know it today might not even exist.
So, let's get to it before anyone's luck runs out in the kitchen. Soda bread, anyone?
It's best to leave any preconceptions at the door when it comes to soda bread, because they're probably wrong. This is especially true when it comes to ingredients. Colman Andrews, editorial director at The Daily Meal and author of The Country Cooking of Ireland, writes, "True soda bread is the simplest of things: bread made with nothing more than flour, salt, sour milk or buttermilk, and — in place of yeast — baking soda, which reacts with the milk to have a leavening effect."
What many Americans have experienced, though, is basically cake. It's got raisins or currants and it's softened up with eggs. This is fine, but should really be called spotted dog or railway cake, says Andrews, not soda bread, or traditional Irish soda bread.
Robert Ditty's grandmother used to always tell him to leave out the buttermilk overnight so that it would be at room temperature before mixing with the other ingredients.
Sift the Dry Ingredients
Flour right out of the bag tends to contain lumps, which can affect the ratios of ingredients when mixed together. So it's best to sift it into a bowl before using.
Kneading for too long will lead to tough, chewy bread. Ditty kneads for only two minutes in his recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round baking pan.
Add butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until well-combined.
Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and buttermilk. Mix in until just combined. Don’t overmix the dough.
Stir in the raisins. Spread the dough into prepared pan.
Using a sharp knife, make cut a cross into the top of the dough. This allows the dough to cook more uniformly.
Bake 40-60 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes.
Remove it from the pan, and let it continue to cool on the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Is Irish Soda Bread really Irish?
We recently learned that corned beef like we know today wasn’t really eaten in Ireland. Instead, it was the Jewish in America who introduced it to Irish Americans, who then made it famous, especially around St. Patrick’s Day!
But what about soda bread?
Well, despite Irish soda bread not going as far back to the days of Saint Paddy himself, and rather only appearing in Ireland in the late 1830s, it is indeed part of the country’s culinary identity and still baked at home by Irish families.
The traditional Irish soda bread recipe, not to be confused with the sweet soda bread studded with raisins that you see all over America during St Paddy’s festivities, was born out of necessity.
In order to make the most of basic and inexpensive ingredients like flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk, Irish home cooks came up with this quick and filling bread.
Before baking, a cross was traditionally cut on top of the loaf, because families believes that that would ward off the devil and protect their household.
The shape of the loaves, however, vary by region. While the South bake their soda bread in the traditional fashion – round with the cross on top – the Northerners like to divide it into four triangular shapes and cook them on a griddle!
Santa Monica Resident Shares Best Irish Soda Bread Recipe From Top Ireland Baker:
Widely acknowledged as the finest baker in Ireland, North or South, Santa Monica resident John Blanchette attained Robert Ditty’s prize-winning soda bread recipe when he visited his shop last year, Robert Ditty’s Home Bakery, located in the village of Castledown in Derry-Londonderry, just outside of Belfast.
Blanchette said he was in awe, tasting it as it came steaming from his oven and slathered with sweet Irish butter.
“I complimented him and asked for the recipe, which he graciously wrote down and gave to me,” Blanchette said. “Now you can serve the best Irish soda bread in the world to complement your corned beef and cabbage (an Irish-American tradition) this St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”
Robert Ditty’s Irish Soda Bread Recipe:
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees
• one teaspoon baking powder
3) Add two cups of buttermilk
4) Currants, raisins or other dried fruit are optional
5) Knead for two minutes on lightly floured board
6) Shape into a round loaf
7) Place on a well-buttered, eight-inch pie pan and cut a cross along the top.
Irish Soda Bread
If one food can be considered a staple of Irish cuisine, it is no doubt Irish soda bread. In Ireland you find it on every table every bakery has its own version. What makes Irish soda bread so appealing, however, is its ease of preparation. A quick bread that uses baking soda as a leavening agent, it doesn&rsquot have to rise first like traditional yeast bread, and can be varied according to taste. Both whole wheat and all-white versions are equally delicious, and the addition of caraway seeds, raisins, or walnuts make it extremely pleasant, though some might quibble that these add-ins make it less than authentic.
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose white flour (4 cups for a white bread loaf)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 level teaspoon baking soda (3/4 teaspoon for a white bread loaf)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
- Butter for the baking pan, softened
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add buttermilk a little at a time until you have a soft dough. You will just have to sense when you have a good soft dough it should be similar to a biscuit dough.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 2 or 3 minutes, until it is quite smooth and velvety-looking. Form it into a round cake. Place it in a well-buttered 8-inch cake pan or on a well-buttered cookie sheet. Cut a large cross on the top of the loaf with a very sharp floured knife.
Place it into the oven and bake for 35 to40 minutes, until it has turned a nice brown and sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles. The cross on the top will have spread into a sort of deep gash, which is characteristic of Irish soda bread. Let the loaf cool completely before cutting it into paper-thin slices soda bread must never be cut thickly.
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
This Irish-American Soda Bread takes just 5 minutes to make the dough with no kneading and no proofing needed. It has a soft and tender crumb with a texture that is similar to biscuits.
irish soda bread, soda bread recipe
Servings: 12 slices (1 loaf)
plus 1/4 cup more for dusting
cold unsalted butter
plus 1/2 Tbsp to grease pan
- 1 3/4
cold lowfat buttermilk or kefir
raisins or dried cranberries
Preheat oven at 375˚F. Generously grease a 10” cast-iron skillet with 1/2 Tbsp butter.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Cut butter into small pieces and use your fingers to work the butter into the flour until crumbs form stir in the raisins, breaking up any clumps of raisins. Make a well in the center.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg then add this mixture into the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon and mix just until lightly moistened and dough barely starts to come together.
Transfer to a floured surface and use floured hands to shape the dough just until it forms into a round loaf. It should be shaggy. If it’s too sticky to handle, dust lightly with flour. Do not over-mix or bread will be tough.
Transfer to the buttered pan, use a knife to score the top with a large and deep “X”. Bake in the center of your preheated oven at 375 for 50-55min. When you tap on the bread, it should sound hollow inside. Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy within 2 days of making it and refrigerate leftovers up to a week.