Traditionalists will inform you that most “Irish soda bread” is an American invention. Made with sugar, butter, cream, and eggs, studded with currants and caraway seeds, it has more in common with a giant scone than with authentic Irish soda bread. The real thing is made with only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt.
To which I say, feck tradition and giant currant scones both.
This savory soda bread, from Bon Appétit, is flecked with fresh rosemary and black pepper, rich with brown butter, and given a bit of extra bite with rolled oats. I made it for a friend’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party / excuse to drink Irish coffees, and it was a huge hit even before the drinks kicked in.
I replaced 1 cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat.
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute yogurt, kefir, or plain milk soured with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. The acid in any of these ingredients will react with the baking soda, creating bubbles and making your bread rise. Bon Appétit’s recipe adds a bit of baking powder — which has its own acid component — as backup.
The most important thing: don’t overhandle the dough. Unlike yeast breads, soda-leavened breads will become tough and dense and generally awful if you overmix or knead them. Just stir enough to moisten everything, knead for 20 second or so to bring the dough together, and then gently pat it into shape. It’s okay if it’s shaggy or floury.
Also, since the baking soda starts to react the moment it comes in contact with the acid liquids, speed is critical. As soon as you add the liquids, you need to get your dough mixed, shaped, and into the oven as quickly as possible.