Irish Soda Bread

Two weekends ago, I was hosting a St. Patrick’s Day brunch – nothing special, just a little something to load our stomachs before a day of drinking green beer. Originally we were just going to scramble some eggs, buy some bagels, and call it a morning. Of course, nothing is that simple with me. I woke up that morning with a brilliant idea – I could make Irish Soda Bread! Now, to be clear, I have never, ever baked anything in my life. Somehow, I knew that Irish Soda Bread did not require the lengthy amount of time most breads need.  I didn’t know why and I didn’t care why, but I knew I could pull it together before my friends arrived.

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A quick internet search brought me 101 Cookbooks (does this surprise you?). The recipe looked amazing, and I happened to have bought spelt flour a few weeks ago. I know, I know, for a girl who doesn’t bake, that is a rather esoteric flour to have on hand. BUT, here’s my little confession: I have been wanting to bake bread for a few weeks now. I was in the flour aisle at this nice little gourmet grocer at one time and was mesmerized by all the whole grain flours. I bought some – intent on making bread – and so it came to be that I happened to have spelt flour (as well as bread flour, white whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour, and all purpose flour) on hand.

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I learned that the key to this bread is timing. See, the rising agent in this bread is not yeast; it is the product of a chemical reaction that occurs between the buttermilk and baking soda (hence the name – soda bread). That product is carbon dioxide, and when the buttermilk and baking soda react together (almost instantly), the carbon dioxide bubbles start to rise – you want to get this bread in the oven ASAP at that point, so it can work its wonders while it is baking. You also don’t need to knead this bread, though a little bit up front will help spread the ingredients evenly in the dough (I did not do this for one of the loaves I baked, and I could taste some pieces were a bit more baking soda-y than others).

Anyway, it’s a really good bread that comes together quickly, is super easy for all you non-bakers like myself, and tastes great. We ate it slathered with butter and strawberry preserves. A couple days later, I dipped it in soup. And then, when it was pretty stale, I dried it out and made it in to breadcrumbs. It’ll stay fresh for a couple days if it’s wrapped properly, and we found it tastes best after a quick zap in the microwave to warm it up.

Spelt and Seed Irish Soda Bread

adapted from Heidi Swanson

*Note: I also made a version with whole wheat flour (just swap out the spelt flour for whole wheat). This is referred to as Brown Irish Soda Bread.

big handful each of different seeds – I used what I had on hand, which was sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and flax seeds
2 cups spelt flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 400° – the oven needs to be fully preheated before the bread goes in. Prep the pan you will be baking the bread on – I baked mine on parchment paper on the pizza stone that is always in my oven; so I readied some parchment paper to be placed on the stone.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Adjust the amount of seeds if you like – they do not affect the chemistry of the bread. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Mix together quickly. If you think the dough is too dry, add a splash more of buttermilk, but this amount worked perfectly for me. Knead it for just a minute or so, just to ensure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

Form the dough into a large ball, then cut a large, deep ‘+’ into the top of the ball. This, I believe, is what makes the bread Irish :). Sprinkle the top with more seeds, then bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes.

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