Irish soda bread is workingman’s food. Soda bread relies on sodium bicarbonate to leaven the bread instead of yeast, and in the mid-1800s, it was a revelation in Ireland. Although bread was, of course, nothing new, poor wheat quality meant the flour it produced did not rise well using yeast. The development of bicarbonate of soda solved the problem easily and, soon, quick bread using just flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk became a dinnertime staple.
Having more in common with biscuits than yeast bread, it requires no time to rise (unlike yeast bread) and is actually better if the kneading is kept to a minimum, meaning it can be made quickly and without fanfare. It is the perfect companion for Irish stew or enjoyed toasted and slathered with butter or jam.
The traditional variation we’re making here, known as “Spotted Dog,” goes great alongside corned beef and cabbage and perhaps a good Irish stout. Expanding on the original four ingredients, spotted dog adds egg and sugar, giving it a thicker crust, and caraway seeds and raisins for flavor.