Recipe by Tori Ritchie, photo by Lisa Hubbard
Irish soda bread is the fruitcake of St. Patrick’s Day. Every March 17, the bread inspires rumblings of discontent: it’s too dry, it’s cardboard-y, it’s just plain weird-tasting. (And thank goodness we won’t have to eat it for another year.) But really, Irish soda bread can be toothsome and hearty, with a crispy top layer and insides that beg to be slathered with butter. We asked deputy food editor (and Irish girl by marriage) Janet McCracken why soda bread gets a bad rap, and how to make and eat this St. Paddy’s Day staple the right way.
Why People Don’t Like It
They don’t know what it is.
Irish soda bread is basically a giant scone–a quick bread. Pick out your favorite scone recipe and compare it to our soda bread recipe. They’ll be almost identical.
They expect it to be a yeasty bread.
People expect it to taste like a loaf made with yeast, but the only leavener in it is baking soda (hence the name).
It has caraway seeds in it.
We get it: some people don’t like caraway seeds. Try raisins in the mix, a traditional add-in, and it’s one seriously different flavor combination.
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It has buttermilk in it.
Traditionally, anyway. Most people just use milk, and some crazy cooks even use sour cream. Buttermilk is the way to go, and it gives the bread a subtle tang that is really appealing.
How People Should Eat It
When you’re making your soda bread, make sure you put a big “X” in the very middle of the loaf. The extra surface area will make the top super brown and crispy. Eat it right out of the oven, or slice and toast it the next day and slather it with good Irish butter. Then do it again the next day–this stuff deserves more than its annual due. –Janet McCracken
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BROWN BUTTER SODA BREAD
Rosemary and black pepper make this bread anything but typical. Wedges are delicious with plenty of butter and your favorite preserves.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg white, beaten to blend
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.
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Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.
Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Baker’s Wisdom: You’ll get the most tender soda bread by kneading the dough gently and briefly, just until it comes together, so the gluten is minimally developed.
See more from Bon Appetit:
The 10 Farthest-Flung Irish Pubs in the World
The Best Do-Ahead Drunk Food for St. Patrick’s Day
Leftover Corned Beef Recipes