The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flying Crumbs and Shower of Flour - The Irish Soda Bread Challenge

hanseata's picture

Flying Crumbs and Shower of Flour - The Irish Soda Bread Challenge


With St. Patrick's Day approaching I was asked whether I could bake some Irish Soda Breads for A & B Naturals, the store that sells my breads. Never having successfully baked one before - my first trial at King Arthur's "Whole Grain Soda Bread" ending in a brittle brick - I said, of course: "YES!"
"Yes" usually means that I know where to find a recipe, and, indeed, I remembered having seen one in "Cook's Illustrated". I studied the write-up for Irish Soda Bread to find out what had gone wrong with my prior misbegotten trial.
Mixing Irish Soda Bread has nothing in common with making regular breads. Apart from the right kind of flour - Irish white flour is quite low in protein, it has less gluten than American all-purpose flour - it doesn't require yeast but is leavened with baking soda.
Clueless about the true nature of this Irish tradition, I had given my King Arthur bread the usual treatment, kneading the heck out of it, adding more and more flour because it seemed too wet, and then cursing helplessly because, in spite of all my efforts, it strongly resisted being folded and shaped. What finally came out of the oven was a grainy, unappetizing brick that would have surely gone to the dogs if Buffy had already been with us.
Fortunately America's Test Kitchen never fails to take the scary out of cooking. Reading their introduction I understood that, with my uncouth handling, I had debilitated my hapless first trial bread. To achieve Soda Bread perfection the dough had to be mixed like muffin batter, barely allowing the ingredients to come together, before turning it out onto the counter and gently patting it into a round.
Enthusiastically I started preparing my first Classic Soda Bread, following the instruction. Everything went well until I emptied the bowl over the counter. The dough fell apart in larger and smaller lumps, and, also, shed quite a bit of loose flour. When I gingerly started turning it over, trying to capture the loose flour, a band of unruly crumbs broke free, rolling all over the counter.
When I finally managed coaxing all loose flour to stick, and herding back the crumbs that had gone AWOL, the sweat I broke was not only due to the oven heat.
While my bread was baking I looked through all those other Irish Soda Bread recipes I had gathered, and, also, consulted with Youtube. Did anybody know a way to make this procedure less of a crumbly challenge, more streamlined? For baking several loaves at one time? Even using a mixer?
What I read and saw was all hands-on only, even Jeffrey Hamelman described his experiences in Dublin as being "literally up to the elbows " in dough. The idea of handling a large batch of soda dough more likely to resist centripetal forces than submitting to them seemed rather daunting. Moreover, handling it with the gentlest touch!
My Irish Soda Bread turned out very nice, it was well worth the effort. And finally, I found at least a way to make it a little easier to bring the dough together without overworking it


Mebake's picture

Looks Good to Me, Karin..! How do you describe the texture and flavor?

hanseata's picture

the texture is like a cross between a scone and a biscuit, a little denser. The flavor is bread like and pleasant. You can't slice it too thin, of course, it is a bit crumblier than regular bread.

I made several trial versions to find out which one I wanted to sell, I made a classic white one (shown in the photos), a brown soda bread with whole wheat and wheat bran, and a  fancy oatmeal/walnut version. They all tasted very good.




ananda's picture

Hi Karin,

I just didn't find time to post on your thread earlier when I first saw it: apologies!

So, are you going to give us the link to Jeffrey Hamelman "up to his elbows"?   Love to see that on youtube!!!

Wheaten Soda Bread would surely be one for Khalid to get into.   I love it, and the coarser the wholemeal the better.

Elizabeth David is great on this.   Historic, in fact.   Poverty of life in old Ireland.   Combine washing water with buttermilk as liquor, and the poorest quality flour imagineable....and create this wondrous substance.   Has to be eaten straightaway, mind!

Not easy to deal with; you did a great job

All good wishes


hanseata's picture

a compliment from you is always something to be proud of!

I wish I had seen a youtube video with Hamelman up to the elbows in soda bread dough - I read his comment in "Bread". He was a bit pessimistic about making real soda bread in the US, the buttermilk not being the same.

I ended up using Cook's Illustrated recipes - they had put a lot of thinking about how to work with US ingredients.

Astonishingly enough, even the white bread kept for three days (until it was completely eaten), tasting good and fresh.

Next time I'll try Hamelman's version - right now I'm a bit "soda breaded out", after all my test loaves.