The grand symbol of Ireland’s baking, Irish soda bread is defined not by the baking soda but by the soft white wheat that grows in Ireland. Low in gluten and protein, the soft Irish wheat receives a boost from baking soda, invented in the 1800s and an immediate game changer for Irish baking. Slashed with a cross and pricked to release heat—or fairies?—our traditional soda bread is enhanced with strong Irish Cheddar, fresh dill, and ground black pepper. You can find more authentic soda bread recipes in our Authentic Ireland July/August 2020 issue.
- 3⅔ cups (458 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons (4.5 grams) kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 grams) baking soda
- 1 cup (113 grams) course grated Irish aged white Cheddar cheese, divided
- 1 tablespoon (2 grams) chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon (1 gram) ground black pepper
- 2 cups (480 grams) whole buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda until well combined. Stir in ⅔ cup (75 grams) cheese, dill, and pepper. Make a well in center, and add buttermilk. Using your hand like a claw, mix buttermilk into dry ingredients, working from center to outside of bowl, just until combined and a ball of dough forms. (Dough should be sticky and slightly clumpy.)
- Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, gently shape into a round. Turn dough over, and tuck and rotate dough until edges are rounded and even. Transfer to a sheet of parchment paper, and pat into a 1½-inch-thick disk. Using a knife dipped in flour, cut a 1-inch-deep “X” across top of dough. Using tip of knife, prick a hole into each of the four sections of dough. Sprinkle remaining ⅓ cup (38 grams) cheese on top. Transfer on parchment paper to a baking sheet.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400°F (200°C), and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in a section of bread registers 200°F (93°C), 15 to 20 minutes more. (If you tap bottom of loaf, it should sound hollow.) Remove from pan, and place on a wire rack. Let cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes. Best served warm.
Our soda bread dough can be a little sticky to work with, so we used floured hands to help shape it. As you tuck and rotate the dough, keep in mind that it should be a rustic round—not perfect. If you try to make it pristine, you risk overhandling the dough, making it tough.
Use a floured knife to keep the sticky dough from tearing while you make your incision. Though you may think of it as mere decoration, make sure your cross is 1 inch deep, as this deep scoring allows the hot steam to be released from the bread while baking.
As an added bonus to the good luck from the cross-scoring on top, this pricking in the four corners of the dough allows both fairies and heat to escape from the bread. This helps the bread rise and cook evenly.