Irish Brown Soda Bread

It’s almost St Paddy’s Day, so time for some good brown bread, slathered in butter and jam, or dipped into stew. Or, I suppose, for sandwiches, though Belle and I prefer to eat our sandwiches deconstructed.

Because this is a bread that relies on baking soda instead of yeast, we didn’t recap the yeast fart discussion from yesterday’s pizza dough, but instead used it as a springboard to talk about Ireland. Hey, if we’re going to be self-isolating, Mama can relive her glory days of backpacking across Europe.

Sequencing in flour measurements
Sequencing: scoop, tip, check. Does it need a lot more, a little more, or a little less?

Well, let’s back up. Belle doesn’t really have a concept of “countries” yet, but she does understand islands (we live on the shore). So Ireland is an island where some people live, and they eat a lot of this bread. They have a lot of whole wheat flour because it doesn’t cost much and is easier to make than white flour, and they have oats because they’re easy to grow and healthy to eat, and the bread helps them stay full when they work on their farms.

Pouring buttermilk
Gross motor: Belle has a heavy and full jar of buttermilk to pour accurately into the bowl.

That last bit is a bit unsupported by research, but the dense, slightly sweet bread is definitely filling, and when we’re talking about a largely rural, historically poor country, cheap and filling eats are definitely important to farmers.

Mixing by hand
Sensory vocabulary: Belle called the dough “chilly”!

Ireland is also a superstitious country – hence the cross on the bread to let the devil or fairies out. Belle has enormous confidence in her ability to use knives despite rarely getting a chance to touch them, and this very simple scoring of the loaf was as good an opportunity as any to allow her to make a few cuts without worrying about precision. We said a little prayer for the world while we were at it.

Knife skills
Belle’s solo attempts weren’t deep enough, but at almost 3, she is patient enough to wait for me to explain our cuts and then help me with them.

While the bread was in the oven, we talked a bit more about St Patrick, shamrocks, the color green, pictures of Ireland, and Irish farms. I put on a cartoon for Belle: the St Patrick episode of Veggie Tales. Slightly older children might also enjoy Ballybraddan, an Irish cartoon about a grade school hurling team that can be found on YouTube, but when I previewed it, I knew the pacing would be a bit too slow for Belle.

Skills worked on:

  • Knife safety and skills
  • Fine motor (whisking, scooping)
  • Measuring
  • Sensory (hand mixing)
  • Cultural unit study (Ireland)


  • Large mixing bowl
  • Spatula
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Knife

Soda bread

Recipe (25 min prep, 45 min bake, yield 1 12″ round loaf):

This recipe is modified from Best of Irish Traditional Cooking by Biddy White Lennon.

  • 4 c whole wheat flour (or white)
  • 1 1/2 c white flour
  • 1/2 c old fashioned oats, optional
  • 1 generous tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c raisins, optional
  • About 2 c buttermilk (or scant 2 c milk plus 2 tbsp white vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp molasses (substitute honey or maple syrup)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
  2. If substituting for buttermilk: Whisk together 1 3/4 c milk and 2 tbsp white vinegar. Let sit 5-10 min, until slightly curdled.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl: 4 c whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 c white flour, 1/2 c old fashioned oats, 1 generous tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 c raisins.
  4. Add 2 tbsp molasses to the buttermilk or buttermilk substitute and whisk til dissolved.
  5. Create a well in the dry ingredients, add buttermilk/molasses mixture, and mix quickly by hand until a soft dough is formed.
  6. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until dough is smooth – no more than a few minutes.
  7. Form dough into a disc 1 1/2-2″ deep (about x” in diameter), then use a sharp knife to score deeply a cross or X. Move loaf onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 40-45 min. Tap on the bottom to check that it’s done. The loaf should sound hollow.
  9. Cool on a rack. Eat within a day if left on the counter or 3 days in an airtight container, or slice and freeze up to three months. Stale bread excellent for croutons.

This recipe is part of our coronavirus/Covid-19 quarantine bake-along. See the previous recipe here: Pizza Pie See the next recipe here: Rainbow Pasta

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