Many associate potatoes as the backbone of Irish cuisine. It’s true, many of Ireland's famous dishes such as Irish stew and shepherd's pie feature potatoes as a key ingredient. However, it was the creation of Irish soda bread that served as the lifeline for Irish people during the 19th century potato famines. Facing starvation, Irish people needed an accessible, simple, and filling dish to nourish themselves when their fields failed. Irish soda bread is made with just four ingredients: flour, salt, acid, and baking soda (hence the name ‘soda bread’).

Let’s back up—acid? Yes, Irish people originally used watered-down hydrochloric acid in their bread to create a rise in the dough in the absence of leavening agents. As health issues due to ingesting hydrochloric acid arose, the recipe evolved to use soured milk or buttermilk instead. Since the 19th century, ingredients such as butter, sugar, and dried fruits have been incorporated to add flavor to the dough.

Another feature of Irish soda bread is a split top created by two crossed lines in the dough. Scoring the top of a bread dough before baking is a common bread-making technique that allows for a better rise as the bread expands. To my Irish grandmother, however, the scores were necessary to let the evil sprits out—otherwise you were cursed to make a burnt loaf!

My Recipe

This a recipe for Irish soda bread that my mother received from her mother, who immigrated to the US in the early 20th century. In fact, when my grandmother moved to the US, she only brought with her a suitcase and two loaves of tinfoil-wrapped soda bread with her! The original recipe is written in pencil, with scribbled comments in the margins, and tea stains along the edges, but it persists as a favorite snack in my family’s recipe collection. 

My Grandmother's Irish Soda Bread

  • Prep Time:15 mins
  • Cook Time:30 mins
  • Total Time:45 mins
  • Servings:6
  • Easy


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cups all-purpose sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cream tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup currants
Rory Powell
  • Step 1

    Set a rack in the middle level of oven and preheat to 375°

    Rory Powell
  • Step 2

    In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.

    Rory Powell
  • Step 3

    Cut butter into chunks and mix into dry ingredients until well combined

    #SpoonTip: Make sure your butter chunks aren't too small, or else they'll melt too quickly into the dough

    Rory Powell
  • Step 4

    Add buttermilk into dry ingredients with rubber spatula and mix

    Rory Powell
  • Step 5

    Turn dough out on floured work surface and fold it over on itself several times. While kneading, work in currants and shape into a round loaf

    #SpoonTip: I prefer currants, however, raisins, cranberries, and dried cherries are also great additions to the dough.

    Rory Powell
  • Step 6

    Transfer loaf to sheet pan and cut a cross into the top

    Rory Powell
  • Step 7

    Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

    #SpoonTip: To double check if your bread is done tap the bottom and listen for a hollow sound

    Rory Powell

The recipe for Irish soda bread is far from elaborate, but its simplicity is what makes it so delicious. As my grandmother's last instruction states: a fresh slice of soda bread is perfect with plenty of butter and big cup of tea!