At our house, we don’t need an extra excuse to indulge in Irish Soda Bread. As it stands, it’s all we can do to not eat the whole loaf in one day. Our Irish Soda Bread Mix was one of the first products I fell in love with when I began working at Bob’s Red Mill over five years ago. Traditional soda bread was made using flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk; simple ingredients available to most families during the mid-1800s. Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) was introduced to Ireland around 1840 and became popular for its reliability in leavening and affordability. According to Rory O’Connell (via Epicurious), the introduction of baking soda allowed families to bake bread without an oven, something which many families simply did not have. Soda bread could bake in a covered cast iron pot set directly on the coals of a fire. Soda was not perishable like yeast and it was very affordable for the average family. Most farms would have been making their own butter (of which buttermilk is a byproduct) and growing wheat to feed their families. Soda bread allowed them to bake bread using the simple ingredients readily available in their lives.
The Irish soda bread we see in bakeries across the United States is a far cry from the simple peasant bread of the 1850s. Raisins and other dried fruit would have been a luxury item, according to O’Connell, and added to breads during harvest as a treat for the men working in the fields. The most common soda bread was a whole meal (or brown) bread. This makes sense, white flour was simply not a common ingredient for most households and did not become readily available for consumption until the early 1900s.
There are many modern variations on this simple staple and I’ve included some below. The bread is easy; it takes almost no time to throw together and yields a lovely loaf with little effort. The key to a nice loaf of soda bread is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more you handle the dough, the tougher the loaf will become. If you’re looking for a quick fix, try our Irish Soda Bread Mix; it’s simple, easy and quite tasty.
Irish Soda Bread Recipes:
Traditional Irish Soda Bread using white flour from Baking Bites.
Grammy’s Irish Brown Bread from Bitten Blog
Irish Brown Soda Bread from DoChara
Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread from Carol Fenster, PhD
Gluten Free Irish Soda Bread from Gluten-Free Goddess, Karina Allrich
Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway from Epicurious
Not-so-traditional Irish Soda Bread with Dark Chocolate and Candied Organic Peel from Epicurious
Read the full interview with Rory O’Connell on MSNBC.