Making Soda Bread

Don’t think you have time to make fresh bread for St. Patrick’s Day today? Trust me, you do. Just check out how fast and easy a traditional soda bread is to make. Preheat your oven to 425 half an hour before you begin. When the oven is hot, combine all your dry ingredients in a large bowl (make sure your soda is fresh). Check out how coarse this flour is: look around the edges of the bowl, see those little granules? Those are pieces of barely ground wheat berries. This is serious hippie flour — and perfect for a bread like this.

Whisk everything together.

Then add the buttermilk.

Use a spatula to moisten everything…

…then dive in with your hands.

Work the dough a bit until it comes together into a slightly stick ball (add more buttermilk if need be). There’s nothing to be gained from kneading this bread since it’s being chemically raised like a biscuit. Lots of developed gluten will only make it tough(er).

Transfer the mass to a floured board and pat it down into a disk about 1 1/2″ high.

Score it in a cross shape (this will make it easier to portion out after it’s baked).

Transfer the loaf to a cast iron skillet, or directly to a baking stone…

…and bake for 25 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 and bake another 15 minutes until the loaf looks like this:

Pretty yes? This is “cake” soda bread. To make “farl”-style soda bread, divid the dough in two, and pat the pieces down to a thickness of about 3/4″. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and griddle the disks like English muffins until they’re browned on both sides. Split then, butter them and eat them.

10 thoughts on “Making Soda Bread”

  1. So, what about all those recipes for “Irish Soda Bread” with raisins (or currents), caraway seeds and sugar? I have never seen a soda bread that was not sweetened.

    1. Hey Rebecca and Ed! The recipes that you see for soda bread with all the additions are various attempts to “spice up” the basic recipe. I mean let’s face it, the straight stuff can be pretty dense and bland. I’ve found “soda bread” recipes that are actually feather-light yeast-leavened breads with a little soda added to give it that “authentic” taste. Now I’m no stickler for authenticity as you know, but for St. Patty’s day a very basic version seemed warranted.

  2. Hi Joe, been a while since I’ve had a kitchen, moving around the world again, but thought you might like this.

    This was our standard soda mix for wholemeal bread

    26lb Coarse flour
    6lb White flour
    4 lb Oats
    Good handfull bran flakes (2 of my hands, one of the bakers)
    9oz soda
    9 oz salt
    250 – 500 ml Olive oil (depending on how fresh the wholemeal was)
    4 gallons (Imp) Buttermilk.

    Basic rule was, divide the lbs of flour and oats by 4, the answer gave you the amount of soda and salt in oz.

    We made 1 1/2 lb loaves, it was usual to do make up 3 batches in the course of a morning and be sold out by closing time.

    Farls, the smaller soda loaf, were

    for a 24lb mix

    12lb wheatmeal
    12lb white plain
    6oz soda
    6oz salt
    good handfull of bran
    1 1/2 gallons(Imp) Buttermilk

    You have to mix quickly and shape and have on the trays as soon as possible, due to the reaction of the soda to the buttermilk. Too long spent fiddling and the loaves wouldn’t rise, and there is nothing worse than listening to a shop full of ould biddies complaining about the flat soda bread.

    Hope you had a great St Paddys day.

    1. Great stuff, Warren! That surely made some sturdy bread. Thanks and take care out there!

    1. How could that offend me? It’s a perfectly good question. Other than the cross on the top, there’s very little similarity between the two. Hot cross buns area yeast-raised, very light and fluffy, and sweet. Soda bread is sorta the opposite. 😉 Thanks for the question!

  3. A farl of soda bread may be one of those quarters of your cake, or it may be that the soda bread is cut into quarters before cooking and then cooked on a griddle. But cooking on the griddle alone is not what makes it a farl. The word comes from the Scots and means a three-cornered bread or cake.

    The Irish family I married into says that American whole wheat flour doesn’t make good soda bread. I’ve used King Arthur’s Irish-Style Whole Meal Flour for years with good results. It is a low-protein wheat and the milling is different. I don’t know enough abut milling to explain why.

  4. Joe – so I’ve finally found a reason to write – that is that I can’t find this recipe! (Adding wheat berries to soda bread? Awesome!)
    I am a former chef myself. I admire your enthusiasm and ability to guide your readers through the science of food. Professionals (or former pros) take most of it for granted, but knowing more about what you’re doing in the kitchen often makes for better eating!
    (And, btw, if it hasn’t been put to bed already – check out Larousse for an explanation for the Paris-Brest.)

    1. Thanks for all the praise, Pat! I deeply appreciate it! Go to the main page ( and scroll down until you find the recipe. It’s in a separate post. And I’ll have a look at Larousse! – Joe

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