Irish Soda Bread


By Meghan Gourley

Like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread is worthy of more than its annual day on the plate. There are plenty of recipes, but my favorite is from James Beard who spent several weeks in Ireland and recreated the famous bread as he experienced it there. Unlike most recipes, his calls for whole wheat flour and baking powder, but no eggs.

The trick to a good Irish soda bread is the right amount of moisture in the dough—too much buttermilk and the top will burn before the inside cooks; not enough and the bread will turn out dry. Control the texture of the dough by adding the buttermilk one splash at a time—you want it to come together in one very sticky ball.

You should wind up with bread that is smooth, slightly dense, and perfectly salty. It’s great with a slab of butter or slice of cheddar. You can use it as sandwich bread, like James Beard, or cut it thinly and toast it.  I like it griddled—the way I had it in Ireland.

Ireland’s Famous Bread from Beard on Food

Time: About 45 minutes
Makes: One round loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 “very level” teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Butter for greasing
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Heat the oven to 375 dgF.
  2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but sticky. (I used the entire 2 cups.)
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough for a minute or two.
  5. Shape the dough into a round ball and place it on a buttered baking sheet; cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or store for up to a few days.


Posted in Baking, Recipes


  1. schultzmt said...

    I, too, thought the salt proportion was a bit high, but I was really pleased with the loaf I made. I liked the moistness, the flavor, and the good crumb. Thanks—this will be the recipe for me from now on.

  2. Nancy Hynes said...

    Perfect. I like it with golden raisins & caraway seeds to serve with corned beef and cabbage, but plain for every day with Irish butter.

  3. Sarah said...

    I should have listened to my baker’s intuition, one Tablespoon of salt was way too much. This bread tastes like a pretzel, not like Irish Soda Bread.
    My Irish grandmother would be appalled. Epic Fail.

  4. Lori said...

    Adding more sugar and anise turns this bread into pure perfection! and I agree, salt was a bit too high for me too.

  5. Sioban said...

    I haven’t tried this, but I can see there is much too much salt! Also, seems like so much liquid and only 1 3/4 teaspoon of [combined] levening for 4 cups flour. Should this kind of bread dough be so sticky?

    The “rich man’s” version with golden raisins and caraway seeds Is what my mom used to make.

    What is consistency of this bread recipe when baked?

  6. Beatriz said...

    I’ve made this recipe countless times over the years, since purchasing one of my baking bibles (“Beard on Bread”). My version, with 2 tsp of salt, ¼ c of currants & 2 TB of caraway seeds, has won 3 blue ribbons and Best of Show at our local county fair. And it’s so easy to make once you get the knack for how velvety the dough should feel.

  7. Eric said...

    I loved it though I did only put 1/2 the salt in it as have to watch my salt intake! Thanks for the recipie.

  8. joe byers said...

    how do you kneed this dough when it`s so sticky

    • Jenn said...

      The dough is supposed to be slightly sticky so dust your hands with flour and dust a little on the top of the dough to prevent it sticking to your hands.

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  10. Emma said...

    I am a longtime baker, owner of *Beard on Bread,* and I must confess, on this St. Patrick’s Day, that I have never met a recipe for Irish soda bread I didn’t loathe. And after trying every possible recipe, I must conclude that the reason it is so awful is the lack of oil or butter. Of course it turns to sawdust as soon as it cools!

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