Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread

The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. Information on the History and Preparation of Traditional Irish Soda Bread as created by our ancestors..

This site is here to encourage modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish roots and use the traditional ingredients/recipes when making "traditional Irish soda bread."  Sure, make the fancy desserts for St. Patrick's Day, but save a spot on the table for Irish soda bread to remember how far the Irish have come from the days when it was the only thing on the table to today when our tables are filled with good things to eat and thoughts of the Famine years (An Gorta Mor) are long forgotten.

 

Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, Buttermilk.  

Anything else added makes it a "Tea Cake!"

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The Webmaster's Mother with her Granny in 1924.  Granny was born in 1845 and passed on her baking skills on down the generations. Copyright ED O'Dwyer 2003  

The Webmaster's Mother with her Granny in 1924.  Granny was born in 1845 and passed on her baking skills on down the generations.

Copyright ED O'Dwyer 2003

 

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Traditional Irish Soda Bread Recipes

(and Farls-see bottom of text)

 

All recipes for traditional soda bread contain flour, baking soda, sour milk (buttermilk) and salt.  That's it!!!

This was a daily bread that didn't keep long and had to be baked every few days.  It was not a festive "cake" and did not contain whisky, candied fruit, caraway seeds, raisins (add raisins and it becomes "spotted dog" not to be confused with the pudding made with suet of the same name), or any other ingredient.

There are recipes for those types of cakes but they are not the traditional soda bread eaten by the Irish daily since the mid 19th century.

Here are a few basic recipes.  Note that measurements below are in American standards. (An Irish teaspoon is not the same as an American teaspoon measurement.

Note for New Bakers: a fluid cup contains 8 ounces of liquid.  A dry ingredient cup contains around 4 ounces by weight.  Don't use a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients.  Tsp means Teaspoon.

Of course our great grandmothers just grabbed a handful of this and a pinch of that to make their bread.  We modern bakers need help since we don't do it every day.

The best flour to use is "soft wheat" which is called "pastry flour" or "cake flour" today in the US.  If you want to try using Irish flour, may I suggest Odlums.

In 1845, about the time that soda bread baking was taking off in Ireland, William Odlum opened a four mill in Portlaoise and his descendants expanded the business over the years until 1988 when it was purchased by a corporation that continues production today.  They produce not only the white and wheat flours, but for the modern Irish family, a soda bread mix flour and brown bread mix flour that only needs water added to create a soda bread dough.

The latter mixes are similar to what I create using Saco Cultured buttermilk, flour, baking soda, and salt to create my own "add water" mix for camping trips.

Brown Bread  (reminder: 4oz by weight is a dry "cup")

  • 3 cups (12 oz) of wheat flour
  • 1 cup (4 oz) of white flour (do not use self-rising as it already contains baking powder and salt)
  • 14 ounces of buttermilk (pour in a bit at a time until the dough is moist)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

2 ounces of butter if you want to deviate a bit.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.  In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter until the flour is crumbly.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

Let cool and you are ready to have a buttered slice with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

White Soda Bread (reminder: 4oz by weight is a dry "cup")

  • 4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour.
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 14 oz of buttermilk

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.  Lightly crease and flour a cake pan.

In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.

Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot).  Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

One of my favorite Irish cookbooks is by Monica Sheridan, the Julia Child of Irish Television, called "The Art of Irish Cooking" published in 1965.  It has been long out-of-printbut if you get a chance to grab a copy, do so.  She talks about traditional cooking without any of the "spicing up" that we see in modern interpretations of Irish baking although she does experiment a bit with recipes.  Here is her recipe for "Brown Bread"

  • 4 cups Stone Ground Whole wheat flour 
  • 2 cups White flour 
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking soda 
  • 1 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 cups Buttermilk  

Preparation:

Mix the whole wheat flour thoroughly with the white flour, salt, and baking soda. 
Make a well in the center and gradually mix in the liquid. Stir with a wooden spoon. You may need less, or more liquid - it depends on the absorbent quality of the flour.

The dough should be soft but manageable. Knead the dough into a ball in the mixing bowl with your floured hands. Put on a lightly floured baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten out in a circle 1 1/2 inches thick.

With a knife dipped in flour, make a cross through the center of the bread so that it will easily break into quarters when it is baked. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake a further 15 minutes. If the crust seems too hard, wrap the baked bread in a damp tea cloth. Leave the loaf standing upright until it is cool. The bread should not be cut until it has set - about 6 hours after it comes out of the oven.  (personally, I can't wait 6 hours to eat fresh soda bread


 

FARLS Recipes

In Ulster the same ingredients for soda bread are used but the dough is divided into quarters and cooked on a grill  (I remember my grandmother doing that once in awhile in Tipperary in the 1950s where it isn't common).  The following are shared by permission from members of the FaceBook page.

Thanks to Margaret for sharing this recipe with us.

Here is the recipe that makes soda bread- as my grandmother and great-grandmother made it  - and as my children and grand-children (as well as myself) make it today.  It hasn't changed at all - except we use a stove instead of an open hearth for cooking.  My family is from Crossgar and Hillsborough in County Down.
 

  • Heat a 9 inch iron skillet over low flame on the stove.  Lightly dust with flour.
  • Measure 2 cups sifted flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt.
  • Make a well in the above and add 1 cup of buttermilk. Thoroughly mix until dough leaves side of bowl.
  • Flour a bread board - put dough on board (sprinkle with a little extra flour - and gently knead 3 or 4 times.
  • Pat dough into a circle the size of the skillet.  Cut into farls (fourths) and place on skillet.  Cook about 10 minutes on each side.
  • Wrap bread in a tea towel when it is done.  This absorbs the baking soda taste and keeps the bread fresh.  Eat that day or fry in bacon fat the next morning as part of an Ulster fry.

 
You can also use 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 white flour.
 
Notice:  no whiskey - no eggs - no cream - nor currants or raisins.  This is a basic bread to be served daily, not a dessert.
 
Dessert breads are like scones or bannocks.
 
Love the site!  
 
Margaret 
Evanston, IL

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Another visitor, Stan Russell from County Down who has been making Farls for many years (He's 75) added  a note that Farls also need  the step known as "Harning" which is setting them up on edge on the griddle leaning against each other for about 10 minutes so that the edges get finished off. 

Stan says he uses an electric griddle these days and it works ok for him.  He also adds "When I make wheaten today, due to the poor whole wheat flour here, I usually throw in a bit of wheat bran, and I find this makes it taste a wee bit more like it should."

Stan Russell, now living in Canada

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Theodora Fitzgibbon was a cooking expert from the 1950s and published a number of cook books in her time.  Here is a recipe from her for "griddle bread".  Cut it into quarters and you have "Farls."   I remember my grandmother making this griddle bread in the late 1950s.


Mix together 225 grams (8 oz) of whole meal flour, 50 g (2 oz) of white flour, a table spoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Add the buttermilk, as much as needed to obtain a fairly soft consistency. Roll onto a floured surface and shape into a round. Heat the griddle (or flat-bottomed pan) until a sprinkling of flour turns light golden; then put the cake on and cook for ten minutes each side over medium heat. Serve straight from the pan.

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And for those who are gluten-intollerant and would like to join the celebration--

Gluten-Free Soda Bread

By Ed O'Dwyer on Face Book Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 8:47pm

Member Gilbert Schmitt posted this info about Gluten-Free Soda Bread some time back.

We often get the question so, here is what he has to say. (Thanks Gilbert)

I make gluten free soda bread most of the time since my wife needs that.

I have my own flour mix that's a lot cheaper that the commercial mixes.

Basic mix is

  • 2 parts garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 part potato starch 
  • 1 part tapioca flour. 

The bread mix is 1 part basic flour mix and 1 part buckwheat flour.

You'll have to add a gum or and egg or two to the mix to get it to hold together and add baking powder to get it to rise.

Not the authentic recipe but this works for those that need gluten free. I don't know if this works for yeast breads as my wife is also allergic to yeast and molds. BTW, 75% of the people in the US have gluten intolerance and most don't know it. Modern wheat (GMO) is the main culprit.

When I mix the gluten free soda bread I just turn it over on itself a few times in the bowl and don't kneed it.

Dump it out of the bowl into the baking kettle. It's always on the sticky side and three or four Tbs. of water around the bread dough will help with the cooking.

In my cast dutch oven it's 30 minutes with the lid on and 15 with the lid off. It's close to the same as regular soda bread.

Copyright 2003: Edward J. O'Dwyer