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Cook's Illustrated Irish Soda Bread or your favorite recipe?

  • r

Good morning everyone,
I am going to make the irish soda bread recipe from Cooks Illustrated this weekend. Has anyone tried this recipe yet? I have put currants in soda bread in the past and like that and may add to the Cooks recipe because they did not add any in. Do any of you have a favorite soda bread recipe? Thanks,Richie

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  1. This is my favourite soda bread recipe. I've made it several times--it's great just buttered or with cheese or jam. I haven't made it for some years now, as my husband, who likes biscuits, doesn't like soda bread, scones, or welsh cakes. Go figure.

    The recipe came from a book on Irish cooking published in the 1970s or early 1980s. Beyond that, I can't recall.

    Irish Brown Bread
    Makes One 7” Round Loaf

    1 cup unsifted All-Purpose Flour
    2 tbsp. Sugar
    1 tsp. Baking Powder
    1 tsp. Baking Soda
    1/2 tsp. Salt
    1+1/2 tbsp. Butter
    2 cups Whole Wheat Flour (preferably stone ground)
    1/4 cup Rolled Oats
    1+1/2 cups Buttermilk

    Combine all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Cut in butter until in very small particles. Stir in whole wheat flour and rolled oats until well incorporated. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add buttermilk all at once. Stir gently but thoroughly until all flour is moistened.

    Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead five times. Gather into a ball and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Pat into a 7-inch circle. Using a sharp knife, make a large cross on the top of the loaf to allow for expansion. Bake at 375ºF for 40 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

    Remove from oven and place on a rack. Brush with melted butter. Allow to cool before slicing.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Colleen

      Now this brings up a puzzle that I have been trying to work out for a while...

      Colleen posted a recipe for Irish brown bread but many of the recipes I've seen for Irish soda bread produce a far different product closer to an oversized hot cross bun without the cross, but I know many people use the terms interchangably.

      Are the two interchangeable? My born in County Roscommon Mother calls Brown Bread Brown Bread and Irish Soda Bread Irish Soda Bread.

      Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

      1. re: Gary Rolin

        All I know is that my younger son made Irish soda bread yesterday to go with corned beef and cabbage - and when I tasted it, I asked, "where are the oats?"

        But we're not Irish.

        Then my husband asked, "since Irish are Catholics, and St. Patrick's day occurs during Lent, why is corned beef and cabbage the traditional meal for St. Patrick's day?"

        Beats me.

        1. re: Ilaine

          Cardinal Bernadin actually gave a real dispensation to eat meat to we Notre Dame students one year that St Pat's day fell on a Friday during Lent. I can't remember which year, but it was between 88-92. We ate (bad) corned beef with abandon in the cafeteria. I believe that the dispensation was for all catholics within the Chicago archdiocese, which extended to us in South Bend. A memorable year :)

          1. re: Mrs. Smith

            Ah Mrs. Smith,

            My husband graduated ND in '91. I'll have to ask about that. He considers himself "honorary Irish" although of Italian background.

            BTW, he took me on a pilgrimage there last fall (for a football game, what else?) and the campus is laden with fast food. And something called Senior Bar is gone. It's an all-ages dance club/restaurant.

            1. re: Mrs. Smith

              In Boston, St. Patrick's Day is a solemnity because he is the patron of the Catholic archdiocese (it is also a secular holiday celebrating the lifting of the seige of Boston and evacuation of British troops, after the battle of Dorchester Heights -- which happens to be in South Boston, the navel of the Boston Irish-American universe -- on 17 March 1776), and so area Catholics are dispensed from abstinence when it falls on a Friday because solemnities trump abstinence, though people are supposed to celebrate in a subdued fashion (yeah, right). How convenient.

            2. re: Ilaine

              A couple of answers....Corned beef and cabbage is an American dish (or at least corned beef is), so this would not have been served in Ireland.

              As for eating meat during Lent, it's ok if it's not on a Friday. Both my parents grew up in Ireland, and though it was a religious day, it was also a feast day and thus Lenten abstinence didn't always apply. So the pubs were closed, but a nice meal was always served.

              And finally...my mother says that in Ireland during WWII, and in the lean years after, there were no dietary restrictions during Lent. There were so many food shortages that you could eat whatever you could get.

              1. re: Dipsy

                "Corned beef and cabbage is an American dish (or at least corned beef is), so this would not have been served in Ireland."

                This I know. In Ireland, it's ham and cabbage and they call it bacon and cabbage...

                And they call bacon rashers.

                And in France a Quarter Pounder is not called a quarter pounder...

            3. re: Gary Rolin

              My knowledge on the subject is admittedly limited, so anyone can jump in here.

              I think what's confusing is how the same name can mean different things--the English language is strange that way. The title of the recipe I posted is as it was given in the book.

              Soda bread refers to a bread risen primarily with baking soda. It should have a faintly bitter background taste from the soda. I've also made soda bread using white flour, and it comes out with a flavour and texture similar to a giant scone, but again with that faint bitter background taste from the soda.

              Hot Cross Buns are made from a yeast-risen dough--a totally different animal.

              When someone refers to "brown bread" they may be referring to a whole wheat version of soda bread as above, but more likely are referring to a bread made from a yeast-risen dough and incorporating a large percentage of whole wheat or wholemeal flour. It may be steamed or baked.

              My (part Irish) mother used to make what she called potato cakes all the time--a great deal of cold, mashed potatoes mixed with a little flour, a pinch of baking soda and baking powder, and an egg or two. This was mixed together and patted into cakes. The cakes were then dredged in flour and fried in butter or bacon grease. Incredibly heavy, but really good. Later in life, when someone said they were making "Potato Cakes," I thought, "Oh, boy!" But what they served was more like a potato biscuit or scone. I've since run across these biscuits or scones under the name "Potato Cakes" in many books. Who's right? I have no idea.

              1. re: Gary Rolin

                When we were in Ireland (SW coast) we never saw the white Soda Bread with currants which is common here- anyone near Sunnyside, Queens can check out P.J. Horgan's for a good loaf. Rather, we were served a moist, dense brown bread with every breakfast and almost every other meal. This, too, was leavened with soda. This style of bread is delicious and definately authentic "soda bread". It just depends what you favor. The wheat flour that is used for the brown bread is a little coarser than most American brands I've seen- you may want to add a little extra germ or bran to the recipie. (I brought a bag of the flour home to recreate this bread- there was a recipie on the bag. I remember it did have buttermilk).

            4. Would you please paraphrase the recipe you have? I don't have that issue &, for one reasona and another, have no recipes for Irish Soda Bread in any of my cookbooks. Thanks!

              2 Replies
              1. re: missliss

                Here is the link that Cooks sent me for the St. Patricks Day menu. Enjoy,Richie

                Link: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/artic...

                1. re: missliss

                  **** Paraphrased Recipe ****

                  Classic Irish Soda Bread from Cook's Illustrated

                  Makes one loaf

                  3 cups bleached all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
                  1 cup cake flour
                  2 tablespoons sugar
                  1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
                  1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
                  1-1/2 teaspoons salt
                  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
                  1-1/2 cups buttermilk

                  1. Heat oven to 400 F and bake on an oven rack that is set in the upper-middle position. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Using your fingertips, work in the softened butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.

                  2. Stir in the buttermilk using a fork. Continue mixing with a fork until the dough just starts to come together. Turn dough out onto a work surface that has been coated with flour. Knead dough until it's holding together and lumpy, about 12 to 14 turns. Don't knead the dough until it's smooth, this will cause the bread to be tough.

                  3. Pat dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high; place on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet or in greased Dutch oven or cast-iron pot, if using. Cut a cross shape into the top.

                  3. Form dough into a round that is 2 inches high and 6 inches across.
                  The dough round can be placed on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet,
                  greased cast-iron pot or dutch oven. Cut an "X" into the top of the dough round.

                  4. Bake until loaf is golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a skewer into the center of the loaf, if done, it should come out clean. Also, an instant read thermometer inserted into the loaf will read 180-F when the bread is done. Remove loaf from the oven. Brush it with melted butter. Allow to cool to room temperature, 30 to 40 minutes and serve.


                  Irish Brown Soda Bread

                  The Classic Irish Soda Bread dough, above, is dry, the dough in this variation is extremely sticky.

                  Makes one loaf

                  Follow above recipe for Classic Irish Soda Bread, but make the following changes:

                  -Decrease all-purpose flour to 1-3/4 cups and cake flour to 1/2 cup.
                  -Add 1-1/4 cups stone-ground whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ. -Substitute 3 tablespoons brown sugar for granulated sugar.
                  -Bake bread 45 to 55 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into loaf reads 190 degrees.

                  American-Style Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway

                  Makes one loaf

                  Follow above recipe for Classic Irish Soda Bread, but make the following changes:

                  -Increase sugar to 1/4 cup and softened butter to 4 tablespoons.
                  -Add 1 lightly beaten egg.
                  -Decrease buttermilk to 1 1/4 cups.
                  -Add 1 cup raisins and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional).
                  -Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until instant-read thermometer inserted into loaf reads 170 degrees,cover bread with foil if it is browning too much.

                  **** Paraphrased Recipe ****

                2. if you add raisins or currants, one good tip is to soak them first: in warm water for at least half an hour, or better yet- put them in a pan with a little whiskey or rum, bring to the boil, take off the heat, and let sit for an hour. makes them tasty and keeps them from drying out.

                  here's my favorite recipe, taught to me by my friend's irish mum, who got it from her irish mum-in-law...

                  this makes 4 loaves; i don't know whether you can halve it, but my friend's mum used to give lots of them away; people used to drop by the house on holidays just for it.

                  8 cups all-purpose flour
                  2/3 cup of sugar
                  2 teaspoons baking soda
                  2 teaspoons baking powder
                  2 tablespoons salt
                  2 tablespoons caraway seeds
                  a stick of margarine, room temperature
                  a quart of buttermilk
                  raisins- two big handfuls

                  put the first 6 ingredients into a big bowl. add the margarine and mix together with your hands till you get the appearance of rough meal. then add the raisins, but not their soaking water. mix with a wooden spoon. then add buttermilk until the mixture just comes together in a lump. it should be a bit wet, but you should still be able to pick up portions with your hands and put them in the tins.

                  wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking, then divide the dough into 4 parts, and put each into a greased and floured bread tin about 7" x 3.25" x 2.25" (roughly--the markings have rubbed off my tins). press the dough down with your palm, then use the outer edge of your hand to make a crease down the center. bake for about an hour in a 350-375 degree oven. turn out immediately onto racks when finished.

                  3 Replies
                      1. re: janetms383

                        Janet I hope you know I was kidding. You know, okay.

                  1. I don't know if the CI version is the same as the one they put in the Best Recipe but if it is, I didn't care for it. I thought it was too crumbly and dry. But, the nuts were nice. There are so many versions of Irish soda bread, not just recipes, but styles. My favorite has been Nyleve's here on the Home Cooking board (page down on the thread) but it's a completely different product than the BR one. It's great warm out of the oven.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: chowser

                      THanks for pointing this one out, I've made it in the past and really liked it but had lost the post - I need to make one to bring for dinner tommorow! thanks!

                    2. I don't have it handy, but my favorite is Marion Cunningham's in "Baking with Julia". Nothing but flour, salt, baking soda, and good buttermilk. Anything else and it's been adulterated.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          That is absolutely it. It is wonderful -- a real, true soda bread, made of what the Irish in question would have had on hand.

                          I find if you're lucky enough to get a real "non-guar-gum" buttermilk it's even better.

                      1. I've noticed some Irish Soda Bread recipes call for eggs, others none at all. Benefit? Difference in end result? Preference?

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: HillJ

                          I used to use 1 egg, and now I've started to use 2. The bread is lighter, not so dense. Also seems to cook quicker (used to take close to an hour and half). An improvement to me.

                          1. re: coll

                            Thanks coll, I appreciate the comparison information. I'm going to try a recipe that calls for two eggs tonight.

                            1. re: coll


                              coll, I'm enjoying a warm slice of Irish Soda Bread with sweet butter right now.
                              This recipe, with the use of one egg, is wonderful!

                              1. re: HillJ

                                Too late for this year, but I bookmarked the page, thanks. I like that they use more buttermilk than I do, it's always a pain using up the carton afterwards.
                                PS lightly toasted with butter melting on top is the best!

                            2. re: HillJ

                              I conducted an Irish Soda Bread "showdown" last week pitting 5 recipes and a storebought soda loaf against each other. No one liked the traditional recipe (flour, baking soda, buttermilk, salt) except for me. Most people preferred the cakey breads which contained eggs and sugar. The winning recipe destroyed the competition, it was sweet, cakey but still crumbly and had caraway seed in it.

                              recipes and details here:

                              1. re: now_me_hungry

                                now_how generous of you to point us in a "showdown" direction! Thanks!

                                1. re: now_me_hungry

                                  What fun! I just posted a comment with a link to the recipe I tried this year - my coworkers loved it! (Also linked above.)

                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                    Thanks for checking out my Irish Soda Bread Showdown! Even before I read your comment on my blogpost, I already printed out that Boston Globe recipe based on your positive review of it! I think the judges would appreciate the moistness added by the canola oil, but they would probably miss the caraway seed (which I know is not really traditional, maybe it's a New York thing). It might be a while before I bake again, but I'll let you know if I ever make it - thanks for the suggestion.

                                    1. re: now_me_hungry

                                      I grew up with the caraway seed version and really enjoyed *not* having it this time. :-)

                              2. I didn't think I liked Irish soda bread. I made some a long time ago and didn't like the bitter soda taste. Just recently a friend made some from a recipe in Martha Stewart's March issue. And I really liked that. It has raisins or currants and a lot of caraway seed. Maybe that's why I liked it -- the caraway masks the soda. The recipe called for wheat bran. She didn't have any and substituted oat bran and that worked.
                                So I don't know if this is authentic or not but I do know we liked it. Here it is:


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: karykat

                                  Most people use buttermilk rather than mixing the milk and vinegar together, although then you have to use up the rest of the carton (I make pancakes with it). Don't know how much of a difference it makes though.

                                  I just made a couple of loaves last night, and used: multicolored raisins (from BJs), craisins, dried apricots (chopped), dried cherries and even a few pieces of candied ginger (chopped). All soaked in Irish whisky for a few hours. Hey I only make this once a year so why not go all out! Always caraway seeds too, although authenticity on that and the dried fruit is debatable.

                                  1. re: coll

                                    The buttermilk sounds better to me that the milk and vinegar, and I like the variety of dried fruit and of course the Irish whiskey. (Even if not authentic!)

                                2. This is my grandmothers' recipe:

                                  2 cups flour
                                  2 tbsp sugar
                                  1 1/2 tsp baking powder
                                  1/2 tsp baking soda
                                  1/2 tsp salt
                                  1 cup buttermilk
                                  2 tbsp butter
                                  1/2 cup raisins

                                  Combine dry ingredients, cut butter into mixture with pastry blender.
                                  Add buttermilk, mix thoroughly into soft dough.
                                  Add raisins
                                  Knead dough for 3 minutes or until smooth
                                  Form dough into 7" flat round
                                  Cut a cross 1/2" deep into center
                                  Bake at 375 for 40 minutes.

                                  1. Well, I'm not Irish, and so will make no claim to authenticity - but we make this easy and tasty bread every year.


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Splendid Spatula

                                      Whereas, I made this recipe from last week's Globe Food section to bring into work yesterday - everyone LOVED it!


                                      I cut the recipe in half so I was only bringing in one loaf; could have made the full recipe and it would have all been eaten. It requires a tiny bit of kneading - I think I did so 5-6 times, but didn't seem to affect the bread in anyway (Riven and Julian both say to not over-knead).

                                      I liked that it used a bit of canola oil for moistness - everyone who tried it (including a Britishwoman I work with who's married to an Irishman) said it was one of the better Soda Breads they'd tried.

                                    2. I'd like to use a 2-cup flour recipe but halve it, making two small round loaves. Do I need to alter the oven temp or the cooking time? Or just watch it and check? Thank you.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: nemo

                                        I recently made small loaves from my bread recipe, actually I would call them large scones, and they cooked in about half the time. Just check them after a half hour or so.

                                      2. My first Irish Soda bread and still my favourite is from Recipes for a Small Planet. I've found that using plain yogourt instead of buttermilk makes a more easily worked dough. I keep it plain (no raisins) and serve toasted with butter and honey. My Irish grandmother said it brought back memories.