Irish Family Roots
Some of my family on my mom’s side immigrated from Ireland. You can easily tell from my pasty white skin that burns like an ant under a magnifying glass in the summer. I can remember as a kid making fun of my French-Irish Grandpa’s legs. When he rolled down his white tube socks, his skin was so pale that it looked like he was still wearing the bleach white socks! 👻🧦 My Grandpa’s mom, known to me and my cousins as “Granny” certainly had an Irish unbreakable spitfire spirit. In fact, she was buried with a bottle of whiskey and a deck of cards. And the year of 2021 has instilled a call in my heart to reconnect with my family’s roots through food. I’m not sure if my Granny or her family ever made cheese and herb Irish soda bread like this. But baking it helps me peek into the window of my family’s past.
What is Irish Soda Bread?
Soda bread does not have soda pop in it, as I thought as a kid. The “soda” comes from baking soda, which replaces yeast to help the bread rise. And back when wallets and kitchen cupboards were sparse, soda bread gave folks energy and fullness in their bellies. Traditional Irish soda bread is made from just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.
The recipe I created for soda bread deviates from the original traditional Irish soda bread. I added shredded Irish cheddar cheese along with dried herbs and garlic powder, to give it extra flavor. I also switched out about a third of the all-purpose flour with rye flour, for a heartier flavor and richer color of the bread. But keeping true to its roots, the only leavening agent is baking soda – no yeast or even baking powder goes into this bread.
And since there is no yeast, the dough does not need to sit out and rise, making it a very hearty and simple “quick bread”. Other quick breads include banana bread, zucchini bread, muffins, and scones.
I found that this cheese and herb Irish soda bread tastes especially delicious when slathered with butter and jam and served with hot tea. I think in Ireland it might have also been served alongside beef or lamb stew at dinner. Perhaps I’ll need to make a trip to Ireland to find out! 🍀
Cheese & Herb Irish Soda Bread
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour (or a gluten free flour baking blend)
- 1½ cups rye flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried and chopped rosemary
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 cup shredded Irish cheddar cheese (or dairy free cheddar cheese)
- 1½ cups buttermilk (or a scant 1½ cups of regular or non-dairy milk and 1½ tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar)
- Preheat the oven to 420°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, rye flour, salt, baking soda, garlic powder, dried rosemary and dried thyme.
- Stir the shredded cheese into the dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk.*If you don't have buttermilk, you can make it at home. Mix a scant 1½ cups of milk or non-dairy milk with 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Let it sit out for 10 minutes, until it has curdled slightly.
- Mix the dough in the mixing bowl until it is soft. It shouldn't feel wet or sticky; if it does add a little more all-purpose flour. Knead the dough for just a few seconds, either in the bowl or on a clean kitchen surface. Shape the dough into a dome that is about 7-inches wide. Using a sharp knife, cut a big X or cross into the top of the bread, about one inch deep.
- Bake the bread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat for 40 to 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it.
- Allow the bread to cool for at least 30 minutes, then slice and enjoy!