Variations on Irish Soda Bread for Saint Patrick’s Day

I asked a friend with Irish roots for a recipe which she associated with her family’s Irish heritage. She replied by mailing me several recipes for Irish Soda Bread. This is a quick bread and is leavened with baking powder, soda and buttermilk. It is shaped into a round loaf and often contains raisins or currants. When made properly it is tender and sweet. I found a pretty little casserole dish for baking the loaf and I’m baking it in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day.

Irish Heritage in New Orleans

My friend’s mother’s Irish ancestors were Hughes, Quinn, Browne, McCormick, Hannon, and Kenna’s. They immigrated to New Orleans during the Great Famine in Ireland (about 1845-1850) and settled in the Irish Channel. (The Irish Channel is not a waterway, rather it is a neighborhood in the center of New Orleans.)

I associate New Orleans with French culture, but the city really is a melting pot of cultures like so many American cities. The Spanish ruled the city for a period of time and their architectural influence is prevalent in New Orleans. Italian, German and Irish settlers also came along with settlers from the Caribbean Islands. African influence is predominant, too, with Creole recipes adapted from native African cooking foods and methods.

Many Irishmen arrived in the 1820’s to 1840’s during the potato famines. Cotton ships would unload their cargo in Liverpool and on the return trip to the New World they brought Irish workers along as ballast to weight down the ships. New Orleans was largely free of British influence. Irish immigrants who were suppressed under British rule, including the Church of England, found New Orleans appealing along with its Catholic culture.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread probably didn’t appear in Ireland until the mid-1800’s when sodium bicarbonate became available. This corresponds to the time frame of the Irish potato famines; it is possible that this bread became a substitute in their diets for potatoes. The bread is quick to make and somewhat perishable and was baked every several days. 

Rather than a yeast bread which is kneaded with a period of time for the yeast to rise, Irish Soda Bread was simple to make. It was shaped into a round loaf with a cross cut into it to ward off evil spirits. It was cooked on a griddle or Dutch oven over the open fire. The bread was made with soft wheat flour which was grown in Ireland. This flour is lower in gluten and so the bread is not kneaded like yeast bread. The buttermilk and soda combine to make a tangy flavor. Current recipes often contain raisins, sugar and orange zest. However, these ingredients are not common in traditional Irish Soda Bread.


I discovered that the ingredients for Irish Soda Bread are almost identical to scones and biscuits. All these breads contain baking powder and soda for leavening and have the shortening cut into the flour. All three types often contain buttermilk. The main difference is that Irish Soda Bread and scones contain eggs and sugar while biscuits do not contain eggs. Rather than a flaky biscuit, Irish Soda Bread and scones are crumbly. Irish Soda Bread is usually baked in a round loaf (depending on the area of Ireland) and scones are baked in triangles.

My first attempts at making Irish Soda bread weren’t so great. The loaf of bread turned out dry and hard as a rock. Hum. I tried several variations, used a food processor for mixing, varied the proportions of ingredients and even tried making “biscuits.”

Irish Soda Bread sometimes contains whole wheat flour so I tried a variation along these lines adding orange zest for flavor and dried cranberries. I baked the bread in a very hot oven (425 degrees). Yum. These rose like biscuits and the bread was flavorful. These came out great!

We served these with cream cheese.

Since Irish Soda Bread traditionally is made with a soft wheat flour, I had the idea of using cake flour which is lower in gluten and similar to traditional Irish flour. This turned out to be an interesting experiment. I used a food processor to mix the dough. The dough was very sticky and couldn’t be kneaded.

The loaf of bread turned out similar in texture to a cake.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, I have two variations of traditional Irish Soda Bread. Both the bread made with whole wheat flour and the one made with low-gluten soft wheat flour are tasty. Take your pick! Our country has so many immigrant cultures that have blended to make this a melting pot. This is true of New Orleans. Thank’s to my friend for sharing a a taste of her past.

Irish Soda Bread - I

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra flour for kneading
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • zest of one orange

Method and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a  9″ round casserole dish or baking pan.
  2. Sift together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Sift into a large bowl.
  3. Cut butter into dry ingredients using two forks or a pastry blender.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Whisk together the buttermilk and beaten egg in small bowl. Pour into center of dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Dough should form into a ball.
  5. Add raisins and zest from one orange and knead to combine.
  6. Turn out on to a floured board. Knead about 10 times.
  7. Place dough into oiled casserole dish. Cut a cross or “x” in center of dough about 1/2″ in depth.
  8. Bake for 18 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven, cool until bread can be handled, cut and serve. Best when eaten day bread is made.

Irish Soda Bread - II

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • oil
  • 3 cups Swans Down cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup raisins

Method and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Oil a 9″round casserole dish or baking pan.
  2. Combine Swans Down cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt together in food processor bowl. Pulse several times to combine.
  3. Cut butter into chunks. Add to food processor bowl and pulse until butter is size of small peas.
  4. Whisk together buttermilk and large egg in small bowl. With food processor running, pour into bowl through funnel.
  5. Pulse to combine and knead several times. Add dried raisins and pulse one or two more times to blend in.
  6. Transfer to oiled casserole dish and smooth out.
  7. Cut cross or “x” in center of dough about 1/2″ in depth.
  8. Bake in pre-heated oven for 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven, cool until bread can be handled, cut and serve. Best when eaten day bread is made.


3 thoughts on “Variations on Irish Soda Bread for Saint Patrick’s Day

  1. Pingback: An Irish Tune and Recipe for St. Patrick’s Day – Dulcimer Jambalaya

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