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Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread

March 20, 2010

James Beard’s Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread was published in his 1973 book, Beard on Bread. It’s always been my favorite because it is so simple to make.  It has very few ingredients. There’s nothing in it to “fancy it up”. There’s no butter, raisins, caraway seeds, eggs–all things I’ve seen in other Irish soda bread recipes. This is the way I imagine my Irish great-great grandmothers would have made it back in “the old country”.

I have tweaked it a bit over the years. The version I make today uses much less salt than Beard called for (1 tablespoon!), and I use more baking powder. I used 1 ¼ teaspoons of fine sea salt today. Sea salt is not as salty as regular table salt (it is lower in sodium); had I used table salt, I would have used just 1 teaspoon.

I often make it to go along with my corned beef dinner for St. Patrick’s Day. That didn’t happen this year. I made it this afternoon and I’m looking forward to having it with some of the leftover corned beef tomorrow!

Update March 14, 2011: A big “thank you” to Carrie who spotted a major ingredient typo in the recipe. It’s all corrected now. Thanks, Carrie! ;)

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Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread

(Adapted from the recipe in Beard on Bread)

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(print the  recipe)

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3 cups (360 g.) whole wheat flour

1 cup (120 g.) all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt, or 1 teaspoon table salt

1 level teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder

1 ½ – 1¾ cups buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 375˚.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir well with a fork.

Add 1½ cups buttermilk and stir well. You want a soft dough, like a biscuit dough. It it’s too dry, add an additional ¼ cup of buttermilk. (I found I needed 1¾ cups today.)

This is how the dough will look at this point:

Knead the dough on a floured board for 2 or 3 minutes until it is a smooth ball. (A dough scraper can be very handy if the dough starts to stick. Just scrape it up and add a bit more flour to the board.)

When the dough is ready, it looks like this:

Put the dough on a buttered baking sheet (or on a buttered piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet, as I did).

With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of the dough.

Back for 40 – 45 minutes until the bottom sounds “hollow” when tapped. You can also use an instant read thermometer—the bread should register about 190˚ in the center. (This is the first time I used a thermometer to test the bread, and I’m hooked! No more guessing. It’s a brilliant solution for novice bread bakers, like me.)

Let the bread cool on a rack before slicing.

James Beard said that soda bread must always be cut in thin slices, never thick. It makes great toast!

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