Soda bread is made using baking soda as a leavening agent. The Native Americans had long used ash as the first form of baking soda. When combined with sour milk (we now use buttermilk), which contains lactic acid, a chemical reaction takes place that causes carbon dioxide to bubble. It was popular in the early years of the settlement of America by the Europeans, (as it was cheaper than regular bread) and didn’t require maintaining a specific temperature for the yeast to rise. It gained popularity when it was included in the 1796 book, American Cookery. Its adoption by the Irish came because it was cheaper than regular bread. Traditional Irish bread was mostly flat because of the poor quality of local wheat that did not rise well. They were also able to cook it on a griddle, since many poor Irish did not have stoves that made this type of bread. This made it a common and popular way to bake bread. The traditional X cut across the top of the bread is said to have been a way to ward off evil spirits. Today Irish Soda Bread is baked in millions of households across the U.S. to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (and to help absorb the alcohol consumed).
Below is a basic recipe. You can find online recipes that include nuts, fruits, and seeds.
3 cups flour
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 ½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until it forms a ball - do not knead, that will make the bread tougher.
Flour hands and workspace.
Knead and shape into a smooth ball.
Dust the ball lightly with flour and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
With kitchen shears or knife, cut an X into the top of the ball.
Bake until golden brown, around 35 min.
Let cool as long as you can control yourself, but while still warm, slice and eat with butter.
You will want to use the bread within a week. It will tend to dry out, so it is best to store the bread in an airtight bag.
You can keep it frozen in a freezer for up to 3 months.
Ask around in your family - many have recipes passed down for generations. It can create an added sense of connection to history and your family tree while you bake delicious bread!