Irish Soda Bread Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Irish Soda Bread

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Irish soda bread is made using bread soda (sodium bicarbonate) and buttermilk, the combination of which produces the gas which makes the bread rise. There is no yeast and no kneading is required, so it is very simple to make.

The traditional way to bake the bread is on a flat tray, but this is tricky for beginners, so this recipe uses two bread loaf tins. This recipe is simple enough that even young children can make the bread, although they might require a bit of adult assistance in the final stirring, and in putting the bread in and taking it out of the oven.

Time taken

  • 5 minutes to assemble the ingredients
  • 5 minutes to mix
  • 40 to 45 minutes to cook
  • 30 minutes to cool
  • Total: around 1 hour 25 minutes.


  • 24oz (675g) wholemeal flour (coarse stoneground is the best)
  • 8oz (225g) plain white flour or strong white flour
  • 4oz (100g) oatmeal / porridge oats / rolled oats
  • 4 teaspoons (20ml) bread soda / bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 teaspoons (15ml) sugar
  • 3 teaspoons (15ml) salt
  • 1.75 pints (1 litre) buttermilk
  • Linseeds (optional)
  • Poppyseeds and/or sesame seeds (optional)


  • Large mixing bowl
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring jug, if your buttermilk doesn't come in a litre container
  • 2 x 2lb loaf tins - if these are not non-stick, then you should grease them with a little butter or cooking margarine
  • Wire cooling rack

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F / Gas Mark 7 / 200°C in a fan oven).


You may find it easier to weigh the 24oz of flour in three batches of 8oz if your scales aren't particularly big. It's a good idea to sift the bread soda through a small sieve to prevent any lumps.

Put all the ingredients except for the buttermilk, poppyseeds and sesame seeds into the bowl and mix them. Then add the buttermilk a little at a time and mix it with the wooden spoon. The final mixture will be very gooey, unlike dough.

Warning! Once you add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients, a reaction starts which produces the gas that makes the bread rise. So you shouldn't delay at this stage. Don't pick this point in the proceedings to make a phone call.

Spoon the mixture into the baking tins. The tins won't be full - there's room for expansion there. Flatten it out with the back of the wooden spoon, then draw a groove down the centre of each tin. Sprinkle the poppy seeds and sesame seeds over the top.

Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes. When you take the loaf out of the oven, you should be able to pop it out of the tin and tap the base. If it doesn't produce a nice solid knocking sound, put the loaf upside down directly on the rack of the oven for another five minutes.

When the loaves are ready, place them on a wire rack to cool. Soda bread is generally very crumbly but is particularly so while it is still hot, so allow the bread to cool before you try to slice it. Once the bread has cooled, you should wrap it in a tea towel, and after you've had some, be sure to put the rest back in the tea towel. This will preserve it and prevent it from drying out and going hard. It should last four or five days, although it gets chewier as time goes on.

Serving the Bread

Because the bread is crumbly, you should slice it fairly thick, up to 1.5cm (9/16 of an inch) in thickness. Soda bread is delicious with butter and goes well with either sweet or savoury toppings. Smoked salmon is particularly good served on soda bread. The bread is too crumbly to make good toast.

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