Updated April 19, 2018.
A great Irish Soda Bread recipe is ageless comfort food originating from humble roots; old country cookery made from simple everyday ingredients, flour, soda, salt and buttermilk.
An historic staple in Irish households, it is hard to believe such an uncomplicated, craggy loaf can be so delicious and yet remain as relevant now as it was way back when.
Baked and served daily, this crusty bread has satisfied hungry families at every meal for generations, and leftovers never went to waste.
Day old bread was sliced, toasted and served again, sometimes the next morning in Ulster Fry.
If the bread was too stale, it was staled some more and turned into crumbs to be used in other recipes, such as filler in Irish Sausage (a.k.a. British Bangers).
Irish emigrants to America changed up the traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe adding an egg, some butter and an occasional sprinkle of sugar.
Starting with an old, old Irish Soda Bread recipe from an ancient family in Ireland, I set out to create a gluten-free version for our St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
It’s not just about substituting ingredients.
When one ingredient is tweaked, there is a domino effect through the whole recipe, altering the chemical reactions occurring during mixing and cooking.
The outcome of ingredient manipulation and chemical reactions impact taste, texture, crust, mouth-feel, color, cooking times and temperatures, leavening, etc.
Developing a gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe is a perfect example of this domino effect.
I substituted my White Gluten Free Flour Blend, cup for cup, for the low gluten wholegrain Irish flour normally used.
Whole grain wheat flour is a very nutritious food for those who can safely partake of it.
One of its wonderful properties is the natural oils found in whole wheat; something missing in rice based gluten-free flour blends.
These oils not only add nutrition, they help “shorten” tough gluten strands that create structure in baked foods making a tender bite as well as retaining moisture and adding flavor.
So, I added butter to my gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe, a good stand-in for naturally occurring oils in most recipes.
To imitate the binding action of gluten which creates structure and “bite”, I added a beaten egg.
In order to compensate for the extra moisture of the egg, I reduced the amount of buttermilk by 1/4 cup.
Buttermilk is a crucial, multi-faceted ingredient in Irish Soda Bread recipes.
It reacts with baking soda to create leavening, which makes the bread rise when heat from the oven is applied.
Reducing the amount of buttermilk means there’s not enough to cause a full chemical reaction with baking soda.
So, I added some homemade Gluten-free Baking Powder to kick up the leavening action.
Buttermilk also reacts with gluten, breaking it down to produce a tender crumb.
It was this tender crumb I was after.
Imitating it took some ingenuity.
Soured foods of all kinds, including buttermilk, act as a kind of natural preservative extending freshness and shelf-life of baked goods.
I had to find an ingredient that could make up for the reduced amount of buttermilk.
Then, there is browning, something rice based gluten-free flour blends do not do well, and depth of flavor; less buttermilk, less flavor.
My favorite go-to ingredient for creating tender crumb, retaining moistness, preserving freshness, adding depth of flavor and functions as a browning aid is wildflower honey.
When I develop a new gluten-free recipe, I usually have to make several batches, fine-tuning the recipe as I go to achieve what I’m looking for.
Parameters go way beyond taste and appearance.
They include consistent outcomes of the product, flavor notes and depths, mouth feel, texture, crumb, browning, raising, after taste, shelf-life, pleasant aroma and nutrition.
The goal is to develop a recipe that yields a delicious and tantalizing product, wheat eaters can’t tell is gluten-free.
My gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe passed the test with flying colors!
Do you need a dairy-free version?
Substitute a soured milk substitute for buttermilk; the dough won’t rise quite as high and a little bit of texture and flavor will be sacrificed, but a great gluten-free product will result, especially if you use almond milk.
What about an egg-free version?
Use Ener-G Foods’ Egg Replacer™; the Irish Soda Bread will be a little drier and crumbly, more like the authentic wheat flour based loaves from old Ireland.
Make two loaves because once you’ve tasted this exceptional mealtime staple, you’ll keep coming back for more!
Make it gourmet by garnishing a loaf with a sprinkle of white granulated sugar before baking.
Splurge on some Irish butter and slather it onto a warm slice of gluten-free Irish Soda Bread or Spotted Dog.
Add a dollop of currant jelly or your favorite jam.
It tastes so good!