It’s March! Let’s celebrate by making some Irish soda bread. As far as I know, I have zero Irish blood in veins, but I couldn’t resist doing something for St. Patrick’s Day. Something hearty and crusty and simple and studded with bits of crispy bacon and caramelized onion. Let’s get baking.
I’d never actually made soda bread myself before coming up with this recipe. I vaguely remember having some that another student brought in for a project (I’m guessing it was that time we all had to suffer through reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and I remember hating it. Apparently I disliked it enough to avoid making it for another two decades. What an insufferable teenager I must have been. But I was wrong! So very wrong, in fact, because soda bread is actually pretty great. It’s got a great craggy crust on top, a dense and hearty crumb, and it’s so simple that you can add pretty much any flavorings to it that you like. It’s a breeze to make, so if you’re looking for a savory snack or an easy homemade bread to serve with dinner, soda bread is for you.
I adapted this recipe from A Baker’s Life by Paul Hollywood, which my dad got me for Christmas because he knows my love for The Great British Baking Show runs deep. The original recipe included walnuts and blue cheese, but I swapped them out for chopped cooked bacon and caramelized onions. I cooked the onions in the bacon fat, which gave them even more flavor and moisture. I also replaced half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour, for a heartier loaf. Plus the whole wheat flour cancels out the bacon, right?
- Using real buttermilk is best in this recipe, but if you don’t have any on hand you can put a tablespoon and a half of white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, then add enough whole milk to the cup to make 1 ½ cups. Let the mixture stand for ten minutes to let it thicken up and sour.
- This bread is crusty and very dense. It’s wonderful with butter. But if you’re looking for a light and fluffy bread, this is not it.
- 6 strips of bacon, chopped into pieces
- 1 small sweet onion, diced
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until just barely crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it on a plate lined with paper towel.
- Add the onion to the bacon fat and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and add to the plate with the bacon.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and baking soda. Add the bacon and onions and stir with a wooden spoon until all the pieces are coated. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in roughly half of the buttermilk. Use the fingers of one hand to draw the flour into the buttermilk. Continue adding the buttermilk and stirring with your fingers until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough is sticky.
- Tip the dough out onto a floured countertop and shape it into a ball with your hands. Flatten the ball slightly with the palm of your hand and place it on the baking sheet. Use a large sharp knife to make an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf, making sure not to cut all the way through the dough.
- Bake for 45 minutes. To check if it is done, carefully lift the bread up and tap it on the bottom. If it sound hollow, it’s done.