Ari's Picks

Irish Brown Soda Bread Arrives for the Season

The country bread of Ireland emerges
from Zingerman's Bakehouse ovens.

The country bread of Ireland emerges
from the Bakehouse ovens

I love this bread, its history, and the fact that we make such a fine, great-tasting, traditional version of it. I have such an affinity that I’m always anxious for it to arrive from the Bakehouse ovens in the ten days before St. Patrick’s Day. This year, with the Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter on both my mind and counter, I’m especially eager. Some folks this time of year get excited about baseball season; I get on the edge of my seat about the arrival of Brown Soda Bread. While we have it for the next few weeks, I’m gonna eat as much of it as I can!

Although many Americans have heard of Irish soda bread, few know it well, and fewer still have experienced a well-made loaf of traditional brown soda bread like this. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread says that the first recipe in Ireland was published in 1836, a few years after the farmhouse at Cornman Farms was built. The Society proclaims proudly: “Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, Buttermilk. Anything else added makes it a ‘Tea Cake!’” (Also known as the more commonly seen “white soda bread.”) The cross pattern on the top of the loaf is said to ward off the devil and let the fairies out (for much, much more on faeries and their very serious role in Irish history, culture, and language, see Manchán Magan’s marvelous book, Thirty-Two Words for Field).

The key to the bread’s flavor is the quality of the ingredients. We use whole wheat flour and also stone ground oatmeal in the mix from Ireland. It’s important to the flavor and texture of the bread because of the softness of the Irish whole wheat flour. The grind is much coarser as well, yielding a pretty different texture from the typical whole-wheat flour we’re used to getting here in the States. Baker and author David Lebovitz says, “Because the wheat is milled in such a way … it remains very coarse, giving the breads their special hardy texture and flavor. Bread made with coarse-milled flour actually crunches when you bite into it. I love it!”

The blog Brown Eyed Baker says, “It doesn’t get better than a warm slice of Irish Brown Bread served with a slather of butter.” I’m inclined to agree. This is one of the reasons that this year I’m even more excited than I usually am. With that Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter is now on hand all over the Roadhouse and at the Bakeshop. I’m already imagining how good the combo could be. If you’re at the Roadhouse or your house, lay on some slices of smoked salmon—the Roadhouse will have it on the menu that way when the bread arrives next week! It’s delicious with the Creamery’s Cream Cheese or Goat Cream Cheese. Terrific too with that Tilsiter cheese I wrote about above. The Irish Brown Soda bread is great with eggs and bacon for breakfast, or with jam for afternoon tea. Or for that matter with the sardines and eggs I’ve shared just below! And, I should also say, the Irish Brown Soda bread is a delicious treat when lightly toasted too.

The Irish Brown Soda bread will be available starting this weekend, from March 10–17th at the Bakehouse, Deli, and Roadhouse.

Preorder your loaf from the Deli

Want more from Ari?

Sign up for Ari’s Top 5 e-newsletter and look forward to his weekly curated email—a roundup of 5 Zing things Ari is excited about this week—stuff you might not have heard of!

Follow us on social media:  Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, @zingermanscommunity.