Brown Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Sitting on a wooden bench in the ring fort of Cahercommaun, with our lunch all laid out in front of us, is an experience I will always treasure. The remains of this triple stone-fort is perched at the edge of a steep inland cliff, and overlooks a wooded valley that just stretches into the horizon. This is part of the Burren in county Clare in the Republic of Ireland. Noel (Senior) who was showing me around this rugged and sometimes surreal landscape had packed us a picnic lunch. Half a loaf of his homemade soda bread, a big chunk of local cheese, pats of butter from the Burren’s happy cows, two big slices of Mary’s (his wife) fruit cake and two flasks of tea. I had also picked up two more slices of cake, a tangy lemon and gooey ginger, from the farmers market in Ballyvaughan, in case we got hungry while we walked up the hill.

We ate our way through the lot and washed it down with the tea, while all around us the music of silence played its variations, interrupted now and again by the lone call of the cuckoo and our voices. The bread was just delicious and when Noel told me how easy it was to make, I was hooked and have made five loaves since I got back to London.

It takes around 10 minutes to put the ingredients together and about half an hour to bake.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

  • 170g/6 oz organic self raising flour
  • 113g/4 oz strong whole meal, stone ground, organic bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon of wheat germ
  • 1 tablespoon of pinhead oatmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • Half a teaspoon of baking soda also known as sodium bicarbonate
  • 240ml of organic full fat milk yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon of olive or any other oil
  • 1 egg


Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl so that the baking soda is evenly distributed. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg, oil and yoghurt and add to the dry ingredients. Mix quickly and spoon the mixture into an oiled loaf tin. Spread evenly and smooth the top. Bake at 200 °C for about 30 minutes and test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, take it out as it is done and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy this yeast free bread!

Baking soda not only produces the carbon dioxide which influences the texture of the bread, but also sodium carbonate, which is strongly alkaline and can give bread a bitter soapy taste. To neutralise this, acid ingredients like buttermilk, live yoghurt, brown sugar, molasses, fruit juice, vinegar or chocolate are added. A rule of thumb is half a teaspoon of baking soda is neutralised by 1 cup/240 ml of fermented milk, (buttermilk or yoghurt).

Brown Soda Bread
Eat when slightly warm when the butter just melts.


Experiment with the flours and mix spelt or other flours and see if the resulting loaf suits your palette. Try adding very small pieces of olives to see what it tastes like – or maybe jalapeño pepper with chocolate?