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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Soda Bread Bake-off: American Version Is Distant Cousin Of The Real Thing


(read recipe from the video)

Ed O’Dwyer fondly recalls eating Irish soda bread as a child. It was a simple recipe: flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. Nothing fancy. But something happened to that bread in the U.S. Ed was surprised to see Irish soda breads with raisins soaked in Irish whiskey, or loaves with chocolate chips! So what is Irish soda bread? Ed O’Dwyer of the  Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread gives us the full history of the bread.

We decided to host an Irish soda bread bake-off, and had several colleagues submit their versions (most would make Ed O’Dwyer cringe!). Here and Now resident Chef Kathy Gunst and Hugh McCrory, an Irishman living in the Boston area, judge our friendly competition.

  • Below, read all of the recipes, and the often-touching stories, of how they were passed from one cook to the next.

#1 Johnny’s Daughter’s St. Paddy’s Day Jig (.pdf)

From: WBUR’s Clint Cavanaugh

(Jesse Costa)

(photo by: Jesse Costa)

2 1/2 cups flour (Pillsbury is preferred, of course)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup butter (yes, real butter) at room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup pale ale
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup currants
2 tsp. caraway seeds, if you like caraway seeds
Splash of vanilla

Pre-heat your oven to 375°. Cream the butter and sugar together. Sift the dry ingredients and cut them into the butter-sugar with a fork, until they’re well blended.  Add the egg and buttermilk and mix until the dry ingredients are well moistened.  Fold in raisins, currants and caraway. Pour batter into a buttered, 1/2 qt. casserole, drizzle the top with as much melted butter as you dare — the more the better. Bake for about 30 minutes at 375° and then about 10 more at 325°.

#2 Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Soda Bread (.pdf)

From WBUR’s Pat Kauffman

(Jesse Costa)

(photo by: Jesse Costa)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter – diced
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
3 eggs
1 cup raisins
(Optional – 1 tsp. grated lemon zest)

Preheat Oven to 325°
1. Mix butter and dry ingredients, including lemon zest if using, until it’s fully incorporated and resembles a crumble.
2. Lightly mix milk and eggs and add to crumble mixture
3. Add raisins and mix until fully incorporated
4. Fill a greased 9” round cake pan with mixture, smooth out the top and sprinkle with sugar
5. Bake at 325° for about 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
6. Cut into slices once bread is cool.

Courtesy of “Mrs. Murphy” and Pat Kauffman

#3 Loretta LaCamera’s Irish Soda Bread (.pdf)

From: WBUR’s Sue McCrory

(Jesse Costa)

(photo by: Jesse Costa)

4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. caraway seeds
1/2 cup unsalted butter
scant 1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. milk or cream

Sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in the caraway seeds. Cut the butter into the dry mixture until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the raisins. Combine the buttermilk, egg and baking soda. Stir into dry mixture until just moist. Turn onto a floured board and knead lightly until smooth. Place in a greased 9” pie plate. Brush with the milk or cream.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375° for 35 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and continue baking for 25 minutes more or until done when tested with a toothpick. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a baking rack to complete the cooling.

#4 Traditional White Soda Bread (.pdf)

From: The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread


(Jesse Costa)

(photo by: Jesse Costa)

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

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Lightly grease 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.

#5 Mary Harrington’s Irish Bread (.pdf)

From: Here & Now’s Kathleen McKenna

(Jesse Costa)

(photo by: Jesse Costa)

3 1/3 cups sifted flour
6 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup butter – cut up into pieces
1 cup raisins – (cooked in boiling water for 1 minute)
2 eggs
¾ cups milk

Mix dry ingredients
Add cut up butter
Then add milk and eggs and stir with a wooden spoon, add raisins in last.
Once all the ingredients are blended, you should briefly knead the bread with some flour on your hands. And don’t overwork the batter.
Bake in an 8″ or 9″ cake pan, lightly buttered. You can use cast iron instead, also buttered.
Cook at 400° for 15 minutes
Reduce heat to 350° and cook for 30 minutes

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  • Sharonobrien

    Real Irish soda bread is not the Sunday raisin cake Irish American’s eat. The real thing is what my great aunti made every morning in Bantry Bay. It’s dense, whole wheaty, grainy, a little sour and crusty. It’s hearty. Fresh butter and you’re good for the morning. Sharon

    • Gary

      whole wheat flour is the we have always made this.

      • http://www.sodabread.info Ed O’Dwyer

        Whole wheat flour combined with a bit of white is used to make “Brown Bread”. Basically a soda bread with the majority of the wheat being whole wheat (brown). Personnally, my favorite to make and eat.

    • http://www.realirish.com Stuart.

      so right you are.

    • SharonO’Brien

      Wow – I’m also Sharon O’Brien and my Bantry Bay Great Aunti made her bread the same way! Front door open on a sunny, chilly Jan. morning, fresh cow’s milk, butter, brown bread and tea.  

  • Dorothyme

    #5 – the most popular recipe doesn’t indicate what kind/size pan to bake the bread in….?

    • Kathleen McKenna, H&N

      My oversight, Dorothyme. I grab an 8″ or 9″ cake pan — or you could use cast iron, too. Butter the cake pan lightly. Also, flour your hands when you shape the cake — and don’t overwork the batter.
      -Kathleen McKenna, Here and Now.

    • Katch52

      I place my “domed” bread mix on a cookie sheet that is covered with parchment paper.

  • Tiffany

    Robin, I have to correct you!!! You stated St Patrick did not drive the snakes from Ireland. The legend of St Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is an alegory for his efforts to drive Pagan religions from the island and not a literal driving the actual creature.

  • Ceczap

    I throroughly enjoyed this segment! I had just left a small specialty shoppe with my soda bread mix. Next year I will plan ahead and bake one of these.

  • ChristaDunn

    The recipe handed down in my husband’s family has both raisins and caraway seeds in it. It was made by his Irish great-grandmother, so the recipe is pretty old. Still not “authentic?”

  • lar

    #1 recipe makes no mention of when to add the ale. . . assume it’s with the other wet ingredients, but would like clarification. Looking forward to making this tomorrow!

    • Lizzie

      Maybe you drink it?

      • Clint

        You drink the remainder, yes :0

    • Clint

      Yes, sorry to be so late in replying, but I just added the ale with the buttermilk. That was one of my own twists. The recipe actually calls for 1/1/2 c. of buttermilk, but I thought it might be yummy with a little beer. Turns out, it is! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  • http://www.realirish.com Stuart.

    Liked the soda bread piece on the show.
    Can I be a part of this next year?

  • Wldflwr008

    As always, Robin, GREAT SHOW!!

  • Katch52

    My recipe, like many others calls for buttermilk. Since that is not a regular in my fridge I “make” my own by adding 2 teaspoons vinegar per 1 cup milk then let it sit for about 1 hour.

  • Kathleen Palimeri

    Type your comment here.My friend from Ireland informed me that the Irish bread I made from my Mother’s recipe was “cake.” I believe she is correct from what I read today. Irish bread is as Shannon Obrien wrote. However, both are delicious.

  • Ccurtiss

    Enjoyed the segment today.

    Checked out the recipes when I got home…and noticed that recipe #5 didn’t ask for baking soda. Perhaps a typo? Would like to know because I would like to try the recipe.

    • http://www.realirish.com Stuart.

      baking powder actually has some baking soda in it and is usually double acting, so it has twice the chance to ‘jump’, first with moisture next with heat. It’s not a typo.
      if the raisins are added dry they will take up some of the moisture and leave the bread even drier.
      i would recommend soaking the raisins for an hour in a little warm tea, Barry’s of course, that way it will also add flavor.
      none of these recipes are appealing to me.
      i am a purist when it comes to soda bread.
      Irish wholemeal flour
      Irish wheat flour
      Baking Soda
      Salt, very, very little.
      The flavor and sweetness come from the flour.
      Should be moist and nutty with a wheatty sweetness.
      Allow to completely cool and lash it with Kerrygold butter.

    • Jacques

      It’s not a typo. Baking powder contains baking soda. Also the recipe omits adding the raisins (after the butter, before the milk-eggs mixture). Once all the ingredients are blended, you should briefly knead the bread with some flour on your hands. Then bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes followed by 33 minutes at 350 degrees. I know because I baked the one on the picture.

  • gina m

    Apparently it’s not authentic, but I love Jane Brody’s version, from her Good Food book. It’s substantial, whole-grainy, barely sweetened, with golden raisins and a chewy, buttery crust. I recommend her suggestions to pre-soak the raisins and to add an extra (third) tablespoon of caraway seeds. It’s also fantastic toasted the next day, with a judicious smear of butter.

    The recipe can be viewed (along with much of the cookbook) in Google Books format. It’s on page 592.

  • Annemarie

    Made 2 loaves of my grandmothers recipe today. I do use caraway seeds and GOLDEN raisins buttermilk baking powder, baking soda, 1 egg, flour. It is a tradition in our family to only cook in a cast iron frying pan. Works every time!! Up Kerry! Up Lietrim!

  • Cscottpdx

    I’m going to make recipe #5. My question is regarding the milk. All of the other recipes use buttermilk. Should this be buttermilk or regular milk, and if regular, whole, or would 2% work? Thanks for the anticipated clarification.

    • Paul Lyons

      Cscottpdx, I looked up my Mom’s and two Irihs friends and they use buttermilk. But, it is worth a try with whole milk – need the body for it to work. Happy St. Paddy’s Day. -Paul@LyonsPDX.com

  • Lizzie

    Can’t believe that none of the soda bread shown has the X scoring… adds a lot of drama (if that’s possible)… or should I say visual interest.

    Gotta use a nice black cast iron pot… makes the best crust.

    • gina m

      Look closer; #4, the “traditional” one, does have the X scoring. I agree about the drama, especially if the loaf is not baked in a pan and thus has more freedom to split apart at the cuts.

  • Paul Lyons

    Thanks it was a great show. I’m Irish and my mom had a secret recipe for Irish Soda Bread. Everyone loved it. When my new wife asked for the recipe, Mom was hesitant but gave it to us. After several tries it was obvious she left something out. I will compare these recipes to my mom’s from Lietrim County. Thanks again. –Paul Lyons, Lake Oswego, Oregon

  • Senjai

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! :) I liked the segment a lot. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been making the Irish Soda Bread from the preservation society’s website. It has a lovely, rustic simplicity, and toasts well the next day, too. I make mine with my homemade yogurt (simple to make, once you get the hang of it…) instead of buttermilk, and I use King Arthur whole wheat flour that I sift through a mesh strainer to take out the coarsest bran, but leaves most of the smaller bran in. It seems that a little more kneading makes it slightly less crumbly, and possibly helps it retain moisture? (not exactly logical, I realize…) I do, however, occasionally make it with the currants or raisins and caraway seeds for variety. Excellent toasted the next day with butter and orange marmalade! :)

  • ChristaDunn

    An Irish friend of mine used to make two kinds of bread. A brownish bread that was made just like the “traditional soda bread” recipe except that he used wheat flour. He also made the one with raisins but he actually called that one “raisin bread.”

    I am wondering if the raisin thing is really an “americanization” as Ed O’Dwyer says, or if it originated in Ireland a while back, perhaps as a way to “fancy up” a bread for special occasions? I ask because many Irish people I know say they grew up with both unsweetened bread and a raisin bread as well. And, as I posted before, a very old family recipe of my husband’s is for a slightly sweet bread with raisins and caraway seeds. But it is not called soda bread.

  • Margie

    I feel vindicated! I don’t like raisins in food, and I can never have Irish soda bread, because everyone puts raisins in it. Now, I’ll make my own, WITHOUT RAISINS! YAY!

  • Elaynalittlebear

    Am so happy to have the 4 ingredient receipe again, but seem to remember
    a bit more soda in one grt.grandma made. 14 oz bulttermilk–how to mea-
    sure this, plase?!
    Americanized version seem like people wanting scones instead of soda bread, although receipe I have for scones is also very simple made with
    heavy cream.

  • Pat Kauffman

    Full disclosure on Pat’s bread #2. This bread never fully cooked in the center with the oven set at 325 as advised in the recipe. I would rejigger it slightly by setting the oven at 350 and cooking for 45 minutes or so. Test it for doneness with a cake probe, skewer or toothpick, especially in the middle. It’s meant to be scone like rather than the traditional soda bread.

  • http://dbcranch.com Sandie Filiberto

    I tried Mary Harrington’s Irish Bread today & it turned out wonderful…it’s a keeper!! – thanks…Sandie from Oklahoma

    • Kathleen McKenna, H&N

      Sandie — I will tell my uncle, Mary’s son. He’ll be delighted, but I’ll need to make some for him, too.

      Thanks, Kathleen

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