Soda Bread

Soda bread is distinguished by its use of baking soda and cream of tartar to generate the carbon dioxide which lightens and lifts the loaf instead of yeast. Buttermilk — originally the slightly sour residue of milk, from which most of the fat has been removed in churning to make butter — is today made commercially from skimmed milk. It gives a rich and distinctive tang to the bread. Health food shops are usually reliable sources of supply, though some supermarkets now stock it. Soda bread is a great Irish tradition and this recipe, handed down from mother to daughter for generations, is from Rose Irwin in Donegal.


  • 450 g/ 1 lb plain flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 level tsp sugar
  • 1 level tsp salt
  • 1 level tsp baking soda
  • 1 level tsp cream of tartar
  • about 350 ml/ 12 fl oz buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8. Sieve the flour into a bowl with the sugar, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, mixing in with one hand and working from the side of the bowl inwards while turning the bowl with the other hand. The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky. If it is too dry to hold, add a little more buttermilk.

As soon as it holds, turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly.

Put the dough into a 20-cm / 8-inch round baking tin with a 4–5-cm / l½–2-inch rim. Cut a deep cross into the top, taking the cuts all the way down at the edges. Put to bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 200°C/ 400°F/gas 6 and continue to cook for 30 minutes, when the bottom of the bread should sound hollow when rapped.