Irish Soda Bread

published Mar 13, 2024
Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Serve it toasted and smeared with butter, alongside a hearty Irish stew, or with slices of cheddar as a midday snack.

Serves8 to 12

Prep20 minutes

Cook30 minutes to 45 minutes

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overhead shot of irish soda bread on parchment paper.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Long before there were no-knead bread recipes swirling around the internet, there was another quick, easy bread recipe that took kitchens by storm: Irish soda bread. It was a staple of rural Irish homes since the first half of the 19th century when baking soda became commercially available (yeast being an expensive luxury few could afford). The other ingredients — flour, soured milk (now buttermilk), and salt — were always on hand, and the crusty loaves could be baked in a bastible (a freestanding heavy-lidded pot) over an open turf fire — no oven required. Quick, satisfying, and thrifty, this delicious bread is not just for St. Patrick’s day, but anytime you need warm, homemade bread in a jiffy.   

This recipe for soda bread is deceptively simple, but with even a tiny bit of over-kneading you can arrive at a very tough, dry loaf. That is why I’ve taken the somewhat controversial step of adding butter to the traditional four-ingredient recipe. Not only does cutting cold butter into the flour give the loaf loads more flavor, but the fat also helps impede gluten production, so the bread is less likely to be tough and dry. In addition, I love the way butter gives my soda bread a crunchy crust and a bit more staying power — it will last for up to four days — especially toasted in thick slabs. 

Why This Irish Soda Bread Is the Real Deal

Many Irish Americans are familiar with the sweet version of Irish soda bread, made with a spoonful of sugar, currants or raisins, and sometimes an egg or caraway seeds. It’s called “spotted dog” in Ireland, and it tastes something like a light, not-too-sweet cake crossed with a scone. While it is lovely for breakfast or with milky Irish tea, it’s not the only soda bread on the block.

In Ireland, it’s more common to come across plain soda bread with no sugar or fruit in it at all, which makes it more adaptable. Personally, I’m team plain soda bread because it’s much more adaptable for serving with a wider range of foods (and I avoid raisins in most situations). Plain soda bread can be smeared with butter and served alongside Irish stew or soup, toasted and served with jam for breakfast, or served with slices of cheddar and chutney for a rustic lunch akin to ploughman’s lunch.

There are both all-white-flour and all-whole-wheat-flour versions of soda bread in Ireland, called white soda bread and brown, respectively. I was taught by my Irish American grandmother and she went the middle road with a blend of 2/3 white unbleached flour and 1/3 whole-wheat flour for flavor and rustic good looks.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Key Ingredients in Irish Soda Bread

  • Unbleached all-purpose flour: A blend of low- and high-gluten flours, this type of white flour will make the perfect loaf that’s not tough or chewy. While you can use bleached flour in this recipe, it tends to produce a more cakey loaf. Because this bread is made of so few ingredients, opt for the best-quality flour when you can. I like Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour.   
  • Whole-wheat flour: Whole-wheat flour gives soda bread flavor, color, and a little heft. Be sure to use fresh whole-wheat flour; it can become rancid if stored at room temperature for too long. If you’re an infrequent baker, give your whole-wheat flour a sniff — if it smells off, start with fresh flour and only buy what you need. If you happen to have whole-wheat pastry flour on hand, use it; the lower protein content will make for a lighter loaf.
  • Baking soda: This is the key to leavening the loaf, so make sure your box of baking soda was purchased in the last six months for best results. Old baking soda = leaden bread.  Break up any clumps with a fork before adding it to the other dry ingredients. 
  • Buttermilk: Buttermilk adds moisture and acidity that reacts with the baking soda to create lift. You can sub plain whole-milk yogurt thinned with water or another cultured dairy product like kefir or sour cream also thinned with milk in a pinch. You can also make a quick buttermilk by combining 2 cups of whole milk with 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice. 
  • Unsalted butter: Butter adds moisture, helps preserve the loaf’s freshness, and interrupts the gluten strands from becoming too developed when stirring, so the bread will be more tender. I recommend using a good-quality Irish or European-style butter for the best flavor. 
  • Fresh herbs: This is optional, but I love a little fresh thyme or chives in soda bread to up the savoriness.

How to Make Irish Soda Bread 

  1. Grate the butter. Grating the butter helps it blend into the flour. Then, chill it in the freezer to prevent it from warming up too much when mixing.
  2. Make the dough. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and smoosh with your fingertips until it’s in little pieces. Add the buttermilk and optional herbs all at once and stir with your hand until the mixture just comes together into a craggy mass (a few streaks of flour are OK). It should be a fairly sticky dough; if the dough really seems to be too dry, add more buttermilk, one tablespoon at a time. 
  3. Shape the dough. Pat (don’t knead) the bread into a little mound that’s no higher than 1 1/2 inches in the center. Any more compact and you risk the dough not baking fully in the center. Cut a cross in the top for the most even cooking or, if you’re a believer, to “let the fairies out,” as the old Irish tradition goes. 
  4. Bake until golden and cooked through. The most traditional doneness test calls for thumping the hot bread in the center to hear if it’s hollow-sounding. A more foolproof indication is temperature; the loaf will register 200°F to 205°F when an instant-read thermometer is inserted in the center of the bread.
  5. Let the bread cool. Leave the loaf to cool on a rack for at least one hour, preferably two hours. The center will be very dense if you cut into the bread right away. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

How Do You Store Irish Soda Bread?

Irish soda bread is best eaten within a few days (it does not freeze well). To preserve the crunchy crust, store the bread side-down on a cutting board with a tea towel draped over it for up to four days. Do not slice the bread until you intend to eat it or it will become stale. 

How to Serve Irish Soda Bread

Once the bread is cooled to room temperature throughout, use a sharp serrated knife and a sawing motion to gently slice the bread into thick (1/2- to 1-inch) slabs. The day after Irish soda bread is baked, it’s best to toast it until just warmed to the touch. 

Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Serve it toasted and smeared with butter, alongside a hearty Irish stew, or with slices of cheddar as a midday snack.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 45 minutes

Serves 8 to 12

Nutritional Info


  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

  • 3 cups

    unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping

  • 1 cup

    whole-wheat flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 3/4 cups

    well-shaken cold buttermilk, plus more as needed

  • 1 tablespoon

    fresh chopped thyme leaves or chives (optional)

  • 3 tablespoons

    rolled oats (optional)


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

  2. Grate 1 stick cold unsalted butter on the large holes of a box grater onto a small plate. Freeze while preparing the remaining ingredients.

  3. Measure 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole-wheat flour into a large bowl by scooping spoonfuls into the measuring cup and leveling out the top with a table knife. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and whisk to combine. Add the butter and work it in with your fingertips until the mixture is well-combined and the butter is in tiny pieces. (Alternatively, pulse the dry ingredients together with the butter in a food processor for 5 (1-second) pluses. Transfer to a large bowl.)

  4. Add 1 3/4 cups of the cold buttermilk and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or chives if using. Gently fold together with an open hand until the mixture just comes together into a somewhat sticky dough. Do not over mix. If the dough seems very dry, add more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a moderately floured surface and gently pat it out into a 7-inch wide mound; the center of the loaf should be 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inches high.

  5. Using a large flat spatula or your hands, gently transfer the dough onto the baking sheet. Use a large knife to cut a cross about 1-inch deep into the top of the loaf. Brush the top with 1 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle with the oats if desired.

  6. Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers about 200ºF when inserted into the center of the loaf, or it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 45 minutes. Transfer the bread onto a wire rack and let cool for 1 to 2 hours before slicing.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Substitute all white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours.

Cheese Irish soda bread: Up to 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese can be stirred into the dough along with the buttermilk, if desired.

Roll variation: Divide the dough into 12 small rolls and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Storage: Store the bread uncovered and cut-side down at room temperature for up to 3 days.