Marion Cunningham’s Irish Soda Bread

When we lived in NY, my husband we had a lot of neighbors with Irish ancestry. There was a set of triplets of Irish descent whose mother made the most amazing Irish Soda Bread. The triplets attended the school where my husband worked. They would sell their mother’s Irish Soda Bread to friends, neighbors, and their teachers for St. Patrick’s Day. (It’s a much bigger holiday in NY than it is here in UT.) I was thinking of that soda bread while I made Marion Cunningham’s recipe from Baking With Julia.

I was intrigued that the recipe only called for four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. That was all. The idea being that those four ingredients would have easily been found in a traditional Irish kitchen.

In past years, I’ve made more of what tastes like a giant, raisin-studded scone or biscuit. (Not that I’m complaining–we really go for that kind of thing.)

Marion Cunningham’s recipe is much, much different. There’s very little fat. In theory, you’d think that the bread would be tough. It’s handled gingerly so that doesn’t happen. The buttermilk makes it very tender.

The exterior was stunning–like artisan bread at its finest. I cut a thin wedge and tasted it. The result was something I wasn’t expecting–it actually had a texture similar to yeast bread. It took me a few more (little) slices to make up my mind whether I liked it or not.

The verdict? I decided that I really liked it. And I think I want to make it again. And not just on St. Patrick’s Day.

The recipe says that it will turn rock hard a few hours after it is baked. We found it to be perfectly fine–not that hard–even after two days. It’s delicious toasted and buttered with a bit of jam. And it was the perfect companion to our St. Paddy’s Day dinner.

You can watch the video of Marion Cunningham making Irish Soda Bread on PBS. (I guess if I’d watched it before I made it, I wouldn’t have been so surprised with the result. And of course, her bread looks much better.)

Irish Soda Bread
From Marion Cunningham

4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 cups of buttermilk

Grease an 8 inch glass pie plate and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and put the rack in the middle of the oven. (I used a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and add the buttermilk. Stir until everything comes together and then turn the dough out on a floured surface. Knead the dough for only a minute resisting the urge to do more. The dough should not be overworked. Form the dough into a disk about 6 inches across. Place in your greased pie dish. The dough won’t touch the sides. Cut a cross in the dough about a half in deep all the way across and then bake for about 50 minutes until the slash widens and the bread is a nice golden brown.

Cool the bread on a wire rack until it is completely cool before slicing. Wrap the bread in a moist towel until ready to serve. You can keep this bread for a day wrapped and at room temperature but by the end of the day even the little amount of fat in the buttermilk will cause the bread to become pretty hard.

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  1. I have several of Marion Cunningham’s cookbooks, notably her Breakfast Book and her Supper Book. Both wonderfully full of delicious little gems. I am not surprised her soda bread is so good. I shall give this a try. I bet it goes wonderfully with soup!

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  3. FYI: Curmudgeonly types will grouse that “real” Irish Soda Bread has no sugar, spices or fruit. The sweet stuff with raisins is well-known as “Spotted Dog”, although it has lots of other names: Apparently, each locality has its own version and often a unique name; e.g., “Railway Cake,” or “Curnie” [sp?].

  4. Can yogurt (either whole or lowfat) be substituted for buttermilk? Mine separates into whey and very dense cheese like curds with a high amount of liquid separated out.

    1. Hi Sandra! That’s a great question. I haven’t personally tried that, but I imagine it could work just fine. If the yogurt is very thick, I would suggest thinning it out a little bit either with some milk or a little water. Let me know how it goes if you try it!

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