It’s time for another installment of Overthinking Classics. If you’re new here, and I think many of you are, Overthinking Classics is an ongoing video series where I develop a temporary obsession with a classic dish. I tend to do a lot of non-traditional dishes on this blog. But trust me when I say, most of my food cravings are as pedestrian as the next person’s. So Overthinking Classics provides me with an outlet to make whatever classic dish I happen to be craving that month. Oh, and I get to generally nerd out about each and every facet of that dish, which, I’m sad to say, qualifies as a very good time for me. And this month’s subject is Irish Soda Bread. So let’s dive in!
Here’s a classic that’s near and dear to my heart. Irish soda bread was my family’s preferred Sunday brunch growing up. My mom would bake up a loaf and serve it hot from the oven. And when I say hot, I mean hot. I remember burning my fingers on more than a few slices. Our brunch table would always be piled high with all sorts of condiments and bits of cheese and from there it was a choose-your-own-adventure scenario. I was always a cheddar or goat cheese with raspberry jam kind of girl.
This admittedly lavish Irish soda bread spread stands in sharp contrast with the bread’s history. A favorite among Irish families from the 1830s onwards, Irish soda bread was favored for its few and cheap ingredients and simple preparation. Irish soda bread could be baked in a pot on an open hearth, which was all many families had access to. And it was quick to assemble and didn’t require rising time, ideal when you have a busy schedule of housework, child-rearing, and farming.
But in spite of its austere origins, Irish soda bread has endured as a staple of Irish cuisine. It’s very common in my home province Nova Scotia as well. Today’s loaf of Irish soda bread is based on the loaves I grew up eating. My family’s version of soda bread is richer than more authentic loaves in that it contains butter, eggs, and sugar. To call a quick bread a soda bread, you only need four ingredients: flour, buttermilk or sour milk, salt, and baking soda. This makes sense because when Ireland embraced the quick bread it was in the midst of widespread famine. My family was lucky enough to have access to what would’ve been considered luxurious ingredients like eggs, butter, and sugar. So our loaves reflected that and for that reason, our soda bread tastes a bit like a giant tea biscuit.
Now, everything you see on the board here, is what I like to munch on soda bread with. We have Irish cheddar, molasses, raspberry jam, two kinds of mustard, coppa, and of course, butter. Feel free to swap any or all of these toppings for your favorites. How you top your slice is deeply personal, so who am I to tell you what to do? I usually try to include slices of apples or oranges for, you know, balance. But again, I’m not the boss of you. You can balance your meal as much or as little as you see fit. Oh! And I should probably mention, Irish soda bread is a fabulous vehicle for the best breakfast sandwich of your life. Just saying.
So that’s everything I could think to overthink about Irish Soda Bread. If you have any lingering questions, the lady in the video below probably has answers for them. But if she doesn’t because, let’s face it, she can be a hot mess at times, pop your question in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.
Irish Soda Bread
- 1 Large Cast Iron Skillet
- 4 cups all-purpose flour **
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¼ cup cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 1 large egg
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- Start by preheating the oven to 375°F. Place a large cast-iron skillet in the oven. The skillet will heat up alongside the oven.
- Pour the flour into a fine-mesh strainer place over a large bowl. To the flour add the sugar, kosher salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl whisk to combine the egg and buttermilk. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk mixture to the center. Start working the dry ingredients into the wet using a wooden spoon. Once a loose dough forms, turn it onto the counter and lightly knead it into a cohesive dough. It should be smooth though. It should be lumpy, resist the urge to over mix and/or over knead.
- Take the cast iron skillet out of the oven and carefully line it with a piece of parchment paper. Place the loaf on top of the parchment paper. Score the top of your soda bread with a large X. Make sure it’s at least 1/2 an inch deep. It helps to use a serrated knife for this.
- Place the soda bread in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden. Transfer the soda bread to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm with your favorite condiments.