From Rachel Allen:
True Irish soda bread that is made every day in Irish homes bears only a slight resemblance to the sweet, rich “Irish Soda Bread” known in America. In Ireland it is a much more simple but no less delicious bread, made with only flour, buttermilk, salt and of course baking soda. The American invention includes eggs and butter, which the Irish don’t normally add to the dough – we tend to keep all the butter for spreading liberally over the baked bread! Irish Soda bread was borne of necessity, without the climate to produce strong, gluten-rich wheat, the flour in Ireland was soft and made for poor quality yeast-leavened bread. Soda bread works best with lower gluten flours so has been popular in Ireland since baking soda (which in Ireland we call bread soda) became available in the 18th century. It has the great advantage too, of requiring no kneading and being ready in a matter of minutes.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Recipe: Rachel’s authentic Irish Soda Bread
The first and still the most popular soda bread is Brown soda bread. Made with unrefined flour it was the food of the masses. The American version of soda bread often includes caraway seeds and raisins. Caraway, though not common, was traditionally added to soda bread in Donegal and Leitrim. The raisins would have been a rare luxury in the past, but are now frequently added to white soda bread along with an egg to make the wonderfully rich bread knows as “Spotted Dog.”
A crucial ingredient in soda bread is buttermilk. This was originally the liquid leftover when butter was churned from cream. The cream was easier to separate from the milk if it was left for a few days, which led to the characteristic slight sourness of buttermilk. These days the buttermilk that is commercially available is milk to which a little bacteria has been added. Not quite as authentic but it still works well in soda bread.
There is always a cross cut in to a loaf of soda bread before baking. It was said that the cross “lets the devil, or the fairies, out of the bread.” It also serves a more prosaic purpose, by allowing the heat of the oven to penetrate more easily in to the thickest part of the bread. After baking, the cross divides the loaf, making it much easier to break apart and share!
Look under “Irish Foods” above to see a recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage and for Colcannon.