Skillet Soda Bread
Why This Recipe Works
Authentic Irish soda bread has a tender, dense crumb and a rough-textured, thick crust—definitely a departure from the more common Americanized soda bread, which is closer to a supersized scone. We wanted to try our hand at the authentic version of this bread, which relies on a simple ingredient list of flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.
Our first tests focused on flour. A loaf made with all-purpose flour produced a doughy, heavy bread with an overly thick crust. To soften the crumb, we added some cake flour to the mix, and this made a difference. (It also made historical sense. Because of Ireland’s climate, the wheat grown there is a soft, low-protein variety more similar to cake flour than to American all-purpose, which is relatively high in protein.) A version made with all cake flour, however, was heavy and compact. A ratio of 3 parts all-purpose flour to 1 part cake flour proved best. With only the four basic ingredients of flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt, our bread was lacking in flavor and still a little tough; we turned to sugar and butter. Traditionally, very small amounts of butter and sugar are sometimes added to Irish soda bread, so we felt justified in using a minuscule amount of each. The sugar added flavor without making the bread sweet, and the butter softened the dough just enough without making it overly rich.