World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Ireland

What is Irish Soda Bread?


I’ve met a lot of soda breads in my life. Some dense, some light and some disguised as soda bread but actually, technically something else.  My mother’s annual Irish soda bread (another recipe I need to add to ask for)  was distinct made with caraway and currants with a tough exterior but tender tangy bite. Turns out it’s more of a kissing cousin to true soda bread.

First a bit of history of the bread which isn’t really as old as you may be thinking.  In it’s most simplest description it is a quick bread earning it’s name for it’s leavening agent, baking soda which was substituted for yeast. The climate being a bit damp and all. In fact it wasn’t until the 1840s that bicarbonate of soda (i.e. bread soda) as a leavening agent was introduced to Ireland.  The use of buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and carbon dioxide bubbles cause the bread to rise.  According to the Boston Globe, "traditional model of soda bread is based on four ingredients: whole – wheat flour, buttermilk, baking soda…and salt." 

If you’re traveling around the south of Ireland, you’ll hear soda bread referred to as soda cake, which is baked in the oven and served as a circular, well, cake. If you’re wandering across the north, you’ll probably hear it called farl, a variety that’s baked on the stove in a pan and cut into triangular pieces. A skillet version of soda bread farl is a central accompaniment to an Ulster Fry. It’s a hearty start to the morning but not too heart-friendly: fried eggs, fried Irish bacon, fried soda farl, fried potato farl (a 1/4-inch thick griddle-cooked potato bread), fried black pudding, fried sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms. The name originates from the Gaelic word fardel, meaning "fourth part."

As to the cross in the center is made, so folklore tells us, it is either to let the fairies out or to ward of evil or more practically perhaps to allow the dough to rise and for even slicing.

3leggedoven Nuances exist partly due to families living in remote farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, not ovens, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant peat fires.

According to a few research points if your recipe, contains raisins, eggs, baking powder,  sugar or shortening, it’s a cake not a bread.  Historically raisins were imported and as a result expensive and not commonly used. The sweeter is all the better to go with a ‘cuppa at teatime. Keep in mind that soda bread with raisins is sometimes referred to as spotted dog. If you pre-soak those raisins in Irish whiskey you have sotted dog. My mother’s variation is actually a seedy bread due to its use of caraway seeds.  Brown bread is one that has been made with whole wheat flour. Variations on soda bread also can be found in, Treacle, Feckle and the Australian outback bread called Damper

A few tips when making Irish soda bread, don’t over knead the dough as it will produce bread which Irish mums call "hard as the hobs of hell." However you decide to make this bread serving it with Irish Kerrygold butter is a tasty choice.

WOP Ireland Post: Erin Go Blah No More

Recipes around the food blog world:

BlogHer RoundUp – Irish Soda Bread

Soda Bread with Candied Oranges and Dark Chocolate

Agnes O’Sullivans Irish Soda Bread via Tea & Cookies

Erin Go Blah No More


Originally posted a year ago it continues to be a popular post. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish ‘modern’ cuisine has come a long way from the long held stereotypes of heavy, bland and boiled dinners and other unsophisticated fare.

Climate is partly to blame for Ireland’s bad culinary rap. Aside from the pragmatic purposes that solid food offers in such a cold and damp place, the other culprit for Ireland’s lack of culinary inspiration was simply economics. Couple this with a geographic location that isn’t ideal for growing a variety of crops.  It was ideal for potatoes, as we all know.  History suggests that Sir Walter Raleigh, a native of Ireland, planted the first potato in his native land around 1580. Raleigh had carried the spud from his explorations to Peru. The conditions were perfect; the climate and soil ideal for its cultivation.

During the the1980s and 90s Ireland transitioned from an agricultural economy to a high-tech economy—skipping the industrial revolution altogether. The country, with a now-earned nickname of the Celtic Tiger, has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Due to this financial windfall, which has resulted in an increasingly sophisticated society the country, and in particular Dublin, has been transformed into an international city. An unknowing upside to skirting the industrial revolution was that it was necessary for everyone to rely on locally produced and home-grown foods from meat and seafood to dairy and vegetables, as there were few roads and factories to work in.

Today Ireland’s chefs are training in France and returning home with a new found respect and knowledge for food and menu preparation. The Irish Tourism Board’s has capitalized on this trend and coined the phrase ‘new Irish cuisine” defined as dishes that are lighter and more sophisticated, in other words, we’re not just talking about boiled meat and potatoes.

Modern Irish cuisine combines Irish simplicity with French training, with one of the basics of great cooking–the use of the freshest and more often than not local ingredients, which is all adds up to a culinary renaissance taking place in the Emerald Isle.

Fare includes distinctly Irish offerings such as river oysters, grass-fed lamb, cows and pigs as and fresh or smoked salmon. This fish is prized for its creamy flesh that ranges from pink to orange to deep red. A traditional Irish appetizer marries thin slices of smoked salmon atop brown bread. Unfortunately, due to over fishing and pollution, true wild Atlantic salmon is growing scarce and the  the wild salmon season is but a two month window, so farmed salmon is commonly available these days.

Despite having more cows than people, Ireland’s cheese-making tradition developed only recently. Irish farmers have been making butter for hundreds of years. In fact, Ireland produces eight times the amount of butter then they use which may be why Kerrygold butter, in its distinctive gold foil wrapper, can be found just about everywhere around the world. It does have a strong flavor but is worth trying.

In the 1980s a group of small farmhouse cheese producers began tinkering with making handmade cheese usually with milk from their own cows, goats or sheep.  Artisan cheesemakers are now all over the country with a heavier concentration in the verdant, dairy lands of the midlands, and the Atlantic coast of counties Cork and Kerry. Native cheeses include Millens, a pale, soft rind-washed cow’s cheese from South West Ireland; Gubbeen, a strongly flavored yellow cheese with a nutty aroma.  And of course, all the way from Tipperary is the award-winning Cashel Blue, made from a closed herd of Fresian cows. It is made in a similar way to Roquefort but is softer, moister and less salty than other blue cheeses. 

Today’s celebration in Ireland is a religious occasion where the Irish pay homage to St. Patrick, the country’s fifth-century patron saint. The theologian dearly loved animals and worshiped nature. Me thinks his eyes would be smilin’ today when he saw what was on for dinner.

Irish Food Finds

Bewley Irish Imports

Irish Dairy and Deli Products

Stocks Irish dairy and delicatessen products (e.g. Kerrygold cheeses and butter, some farmhouse cheeses, bacon, sausages, black and white puddings, smoked salmon), and a whole lot more!

History of Corned Beef (not what you think…)