Sourdough Discard Soda Bread with Irish 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 in the UK and Ireland by the 1830s, when it then quickly became a popular method of making bread in Ireland.
Why use sourdough discard in soda bread?
You may be asking why would you add sourdough starter to 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 breadmaking and is no longer at its peak activity. Discard starter is often used in quickbread recipes like pancakes, for example, to add a sour or cultured flavor akin to that of buttermilk.
In this soda bread recipe, the sourdough starter discard is used to add 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.
Soda Bread or 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 American version of soda that you may be familiar with usually has raisins in it and it 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 soft wheat, which contains a lower level of gluten than hard wheat. Hard wheat is used in many yeasted bread recipes for its strength which comes from its higher gluten level. Irish brown bread, also called wheaten bread, is made with stone-ground whole wheat flour and is much heartier.
For this recipe, I chose to do half all-purpose flour and half coarse ground whole wheat flour. I milled red fife wheat berries at a medium coarseness setting on my Mockmill grain mill. Stoneground whole wheat flour would be the best choice if not using fresh-milled 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.
Vegan Soda Bread
In the recipe notes below I’ve included ingredient swaps to make this soda bread vegan-friendly. Since the original recipe does not contain eggs it is pretty simple to recreate this bread with vegan ingredients.
Tips and Tricks for Perfect Irish Soda Bread
- 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 oven
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and happy baking!
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