This easy sourdough Irish soda bread recipe is a great way to use up leftover sourdough starter. Not only is this delicious hearty bread made with simple wholesome ingredients without special equipment, it’s ready in less than an hour so you can have hot fresh bread anytime you want.
An Easy Bread Recipe with Irish Heritage and Native American Roots
Soda bread is a popular Irish bread recipe that uses baking soda or bicarb soda as it is called in Ireland and the UK. While it may seem like it’s an ancient Irish recipe, soda bread was first made in Ireland in the 1830s when baking soda was first introduced to the UK. It was Native Americans who discovered and used wood ashes, which contain a natural form of soda, to leaven bread. Colonists then isolated bicarbonate soda and it was made readily available as a rising agent in the UK and Ireland by the 1830s, when it then quickly became a popular method of making bread in Ireland.
Table of contents
- An Easy Bread Recipe with Irish Heritage and Native American Roots
- Why Use Sourdough Discard in Soda Bread Recipes?
- Soda Bread vs Spotted Dog
- Choosing the Best Flour for Soda Bread
- Basic Ingredients
- Optional Mix-Ins
- How to Make the Best Sourdough Soda Bread Recipe
- How to Store Irish Soda Bread
- How to Make Vegan Soda Bread
- Recipe Tips and Tricks
- What to Serve with Sourdough Irish Soda Bread
- Recipe FAQs
- More ways to use Sourdough Discard
- More Sourdough Bread Recipes
- Love This Recipe?
Why Use Sourdough Discard in Soda Bread Recipes?
You may be asking why would you add sourdough starter to a type of quick bread bread with the word “soda” in its name, but the addition of sourdough discard is not for the purpose of leavening the bread. A discard starter is any sourdough starter that is leftover from bread making and is no longer at its peak activity. Discard starter is often used in quick bread recipes like pancakes, for example, to give them a sour or cultured flavor in a similar way buttermilk does.
In this sourdough soda bread recipe, the starter discard is used to add a sour flavor in combination with buttermilk. The longer the sourdough starter has gone without being fed the more pronounced tangy flavor it will have. I like to use a starter that has not been fed for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
Looking for more sourdough discard recipes? Try my easy sourdough discard crackers.
Soda Bread vs Spotted Dog
Technically the version of soda bread in this post is called “spotted dog” in Ireland because of the addition of raisins, caraway seeds, and a bit of honey. The traditional Irish soda bread recipe is plain soda bread without any mix-ins.
The American version of soda that you may be familiar with for St. Patty’s Day usually has raisins in it and is often sweetened or enriched with the addition of eggs. The recipe below can be made with or without the raisins and caraway seeds but my family loves the flavor and sweetness they add to soda bread so I will almost always include them in the batter.
Choosing the Best Flour for Soda Bread
Irish soda bread is traditionally made with coarse wholemeal flour, which is milled from Irish-grown soft wheat. Soft wheat flour contains a lower level of gluten and less protein than hard wheat flour and is perfect for soda breads. Flour milled from hard wheat, like bread flour, is often used in yeasted bread recipes for its robust strength and higher gluten level.
Irish brown bread or wheaten bread, like my Guinness bread recipe, is a type of soda bread made with whole grains like stone-ground soft wheat flour and oats.
For this easy soda bread recipe, I used a combination of equal parts all-purpose flour and coarse ground whole wheat flour. I milled red fife wheat berries at a medium coarseness setting on my Mockmill grain mill, but stoneground whole wheat flour would be the best choice that’s readily available in the US if not using fresh-milled flour or Irish flour. The combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flour allows the bread to rise nicely and not become very dense, while also giving it a hearty texture and wholesome flavor.
Sourdough Starter Discard – Use unfed sourdough starter that in not very active and has a pronounced sour smell for the best results. This is a great recipe to use up leftover sourdough starter instead of discarding it. The lactic acid in the starter is what adds a nice sour flavor to sourdough recipes.
White Flour – Unbleached all purpose flour or plain flour helps to create a soft tender crumb in the finished loaf of bread.
Coarse Whole Wheat Flour – For traditional soda bread use coarse ground soft whole wheat flour or Irish wholemeal flour. In the States, stone ground whole wheat flour is the closest thing that is commercially available. King Arthur Flour makes an Irish-Style Flour for soda bread as well.
Butter – Use cold unsalted butter, preferably Irish butter, to make a true soda bread recipe. The butter is cut into the flour like when making pie crust or scones – soda bread is is actually like one giant scone. If you use salted butter, you may want to reduce the amount of salt added to the recipe. Substitutions: To make vegan soda bread, swap butter with a vegan butter alternative and reduce the amount of salt if the vegan butter is salted.
Buttermilk – Use cold cultured buttermilk to give the best flavor. Substitutions: Swap buttermilk with soured milk or homemade buttermilk by adding 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar per 1 cup of milk. For a vegan swap, use non-dairy milk mixed with vinegar.
Honey – A spoonful of honey adds a hint of sweetness that brings out the inherent sweet flavor of whole wheat. Substitutions: You can omit the honey altogether or swap it with molasses, treacle, maple syrup, sugar, or golden syrup.
Baking Soda – Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda is the leavening agent used to give a lofty rise to its namesake bread. Baking soda is alkaline and reacts when combined with the acids from the sourdough starter and buttermilk, creating air bubbles which make the bread rise in the oven.
Kosher Salt – Salt brings out the flavors in breads and baked goods. I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt in all my cooking and baking recipes.
Raisins – Raisins add a touch of sweetness to soda bread and are a popular inclusion in American style soda breads, but are not traditionally added to true Irish soda bread. Substitutions: Swap raisins with dried currants.
Caraway Seeds – Caraway seeds add a subtle spicy flavor to soda bread. Substitutions: Swap caraway seeds with orange zest or other citrus zest or just leave them out.
How to Make the Best Sourdough Soda Bread Recipe
Step 1: Mix the dry ingredients
Step 2: Cut in the butter
Cut the cold butter into cubes and coat them in the flour mixture. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the flour mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs with some pea-sized bits.
Step 3: Add mix-ins
Mix the raisins and caraways seeds into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula at this point if adding them.
Step 4: Mix the wet ingredients
In a separate bowl, whisk the sourdough discard, buttermilk and honey together and pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture.
Step 5: Mix the dough
Gently combine the flour mixture with the wet mixture with clean hands or a Danish dough whisk until they are just incorporated into a wet and sticky dough.. Be careful of over-mixing the dough or it can become dense and heavy.
Step 6: Shape the soda bread
Turn the wet soda bread dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Generously dust the dough with flour and press it into a round loaf with clean hands.
Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross into the top of the bread to help the bread expand in the oven.
Step 7: Bake the sourdough bread
Bake the sourdough soda bread until it has risen nicely with a dark golden brown crust and sounds hollow when the bottom of the loaf is tapped.
Serve the soda bread warm from the oven and cut it into wedges or let it cool to room temperature before slicing it. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the bread.
How to Store Irish Soda Bread
Soda bread is best eaten the day it’s made, but leftover soda bread will keep in a sealed bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.
For longer storage, slice the loaf and freeze the slices in a sealed freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months. Defrost and warm up individual soda bread slices in the toaster or oven before serving them.
How to Make Vegan Soda Bread
Since the original recipe does not contain eggs it is pretty simple to recreate this bread with vegan ingredients. To make a vegan-friendly soda bread, swap the butter with an equal amount of plant-based butter. I have also made this recipe with olive oil instead of butter and it tasted great. Replace buttermilk with an equal amount of plant-based milk plus 1 teaspoon (6 g) of apple cider vinegar to sour it. Replace the honey with an equal amount of maple syrup.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Use a combination of all-purpose flour or soft wheat flour and stoneground whole wheat flour.
- Cultured buttermilk can easily be replaced with the same amount of milk soured with 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
- Use sourdough starter discard that has not been fed for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours for the best sour but not too sour flavor
- The dough will be quite wet and sticky once mixed so lightly dust it with flour and flour your hands to help shape the dough into a round easily
- Irish butter is preferred for a traditional Irish soda bread but I’ve also used olive oil and it came out really well and tastes wonderful
- Cut a 1/2-inch deep X into the top of the loaf to get a nice deep score as the bread rises in the ovenRecipe Tips and Tricks
What to Serve with Sourdough Irish Soda Bread
This sourdough discard soda bread recipe is perfect to make for St. Patrick’s Day dinner with corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes, but it’s also wonderful all year long. In fact, the best part about making soda bread from scratch is that it is an easy recipe that is ready in less than an hour so you can have fresh bread whenever you want. Serve it at breakfast with Irish butter and marmalade or jam. I love a slice of warm soda bread with a cup of tea.
Yes, to freeze soda bread first slice it and freeze the slices in a freezer bag for up to 3 months. Defrost and warm the slices in the toaster or oven.
Yes, you can swap buttermilk with soured milk. Simply add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar per 1 cup of milk to sour it.
No, classic Irish soda bread is made with wheat flour, which contains gluten. Traditionally, it is made with flour milled from soft wheat, which contains less gluten than other varieties of wheat.
No, bread soda is another name for baking soda or bicarb soda, which is pure sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder, on the other hand, is made of sodium bicarbonate plus and acid like cream of tartar, and cornstarch. While both baking powder and baking soda are rising agents, they react differently in recipes and one cannot be used for the other with making adjustments to the recipe.
The first soda leavened breads were made by Native Americans. Early American colonists commercialized baking soda and brought it back to Europe. irish soda bread came into existence in the 1830s.
More ways to use Sourdough Discard
- How to Make Sourdough Starter from Scratch
- Sourdough Discard Crackers
- Sourdough Jam Sandwich Cookies
More Sourdough Bread Recipes
- Homemade Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe
- Soft Sourdough Hot Cross Buns Recipe with Edible Flowers
- Homemade Sourdough Bagels Recipe Course
- Sourdough Brioche Easter Bunny Buns
- Easy Sourdough Naan Recipe – Vegan
- Artichoke Olive and Spinach Stuffed Sourdough Star Bread
- Sourdough Chai Spice Star Bread recipe
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- 125 g all-purpose flour 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
- 125 g stoneground whole wheat flour 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
- 3 g kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon
- 3 g baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
- 42 g cold unsalted butter 3 tablespoons
- 50 g raisins 1/3 cup, optional
- 7 g caraway seeds 1 tablespoon, optional
- 100 g sourdough starter discard 100% hydration, 24 hours since feeding – about 7.5 tablespoons
- 120 g cultured buttermilk 1/2 cup
- 24 g honey 1 tablespoon
- Preheat oven to 400˚F/205˚C.
- Cut the butter into cubes and coat the pieces in the flour mixture. Then use your hands to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs with some pea-sized lumps.
- Mix the raisins and caraway seeds into the flour mixture at this point if adding them.
- Gently fold everything together with your hands or a dough whisk until the mixture is just incorporated into a wet and sticky dough. Be careful not to over-mix the dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a parchment paper-lined quarter baking sheet. Dust the dough with flour and shape it into a round.
- Cut a 1/2-inch deep cross into the top of the loaf.
- Bake the soda bread for about 40 minutes or until it is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf. The internal temperature should reach about 200˚F/93˚C.
- Remove the soda bread from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.
- Best eaten the day it’s made, but leftover soda bread will keep in a sealed bag at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- See the recipe post for vegan-friendly ingredients swaps.
- 100% hydration sourdough starter means starter that is fed with equal amounts of flour and water by weight.