Of all the types of Irish bread, soda breads probably the best known, although Irish cooks even use potatoes and Guinness in their breads. Soda bread is made with buttermilk, the acid in which reacts with the baking soda to make the bread rise. Originally, this bread was baked in a pot, which gave it a firm, moist texture.Today, there are as many variations and methods for baking it as there are cooks, but duplicating brown soda bread in the United States has been difficult because of the texture of our flour.A suitable remedy, however, is to add wheat bran to roughen the consistency of American whole-wheat flour, which is more finely milled than Irish. If you add sultanas and a little sugar to white soda bread, it’s a loaf called spotted Dick, and with caraway seeds added, American cooks simply call it Irish bread or old country cake.Potato breads, particularly boxty, which combine shredded raw and boiled mashed potatoes, are popular throughout Ireland and can be baked on a griddle or as a potato pancake if the dough is thinned.In the northern counties, especially Ulster, potato bread is known as fadge, and when cut into wedges (farls) and fried in bacon fat or butter, it’s an essential ingredient in an Ulster fry.
Brown soda breadMakes 8 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Mix flours, bran, salt and baking soda. Make well in center. Add buttermilk and mix to make soft dough. Add more milk if mixture seems too thick.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead lightly. Flatten dough and shape into circle. With sharp knife, slash cross on top. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees about 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.

ALTERNATE VERSION -RAISIN SODA BREAD

Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 5 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup caraway seeds
  • 1 egg
  • 2 2/3 cups buttermilk

Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Make well in center. Add raisins and caraway seeds and toss. Add egg and buttermilk and knead lightly.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead again until it can be shaped into neat circle.

Place dough on well-greased 9 1/2 -inch round pan or cast-iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes.

ALTERNATE VERSION – GUINESS BREAD

Makes 10 servings

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat bran plus extra for pans and sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (or Butter Flavor Crisco)
  • 1 teaspoon malt extract
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups Guinness beer

Place flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking soda and salt in large mixing bowl. Blend in butter, lifting well to give air. Stir in malt extract, buttermilk and Guinness and mix until of porridge consistency. Do not over-beat.

Grease 1 (9 1/4 -by-5 1/4 -by-2 3/4 -inch) loaf pan or 2 (8-by-3 3/4 -by-2 1/2 -inch) pans. Sprinkle bottom of pan(s) with wheat bran. Pour in batter. Sprinkle additional wheat bran on top.

Bake at 400 degrees 40 minutes. Reduce to 375 degrees and bake 30 minutes more. (Decrease baking time by 10 minutes when using 2 pans.) Bread is done when it springs back after top is gently pressed. Turn off oven and let bread cool with the door open 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack.