There are innumerable recipes out there for 'Traditional' Irish Soda Bread but many of them are far from traditional in their ingredients and preparation. REAL Traditional Irish Soda Bread contains: Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, and Buttermilk - THATS IT! If anything else is added (i.e. sugar [or other sweeteners], raisins, currants, butter, eggs, caraway seeds, etc, etc) it technically becomes a 'Tea Cake' which is wonderful but not the same thing.
Irish Soda Bread came out of necessity in the mid nineteenth century when Ireland was almost universally impoverished and facing the 'Great Famine' (AKA: 'Great Hunger') which is evident buy its use of only the most basic of ingredients. Soda Bread was part of everyday life in Ireland and was eaten as part of (if not the only part) of the main meal NOT as a dessert. During that period, many throughout Ireland still had only an open hearth for cooking rather than ovens and/or stoves leading to most breads (cooked at home) to be cooked on griddles or in iron pots (similar to the modern Dutch oven) over or in the fire - luckily for us, today we have easily controlled ovens and the Dutch oven to mimic the traditional methods without all of the smoke and risk of open flame in our kitchens.
4 Cups (16 oz) Pastry Flour + more for dusting - can substitute all purpose flour if desired
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 ¼ tsp Kosher Salt
1 ¾ Cup (14 oz) Buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425ºF (set rack in the middle)
Lightly grease (or butter) a 4 quart (10 inch) Dutch oven and place in the oven to heat for about 10 minutes while you prepare the dough
Sift together the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl
Make a well in the center of the sifted ingredients and pour the buttermilk in (about ½ at a time) and. using a wooden spoon, stiff rubber spatula, or your hands fully combine
Repeat with the rest of the buttermilk and combine until a slightly wet, sticky dough is formed (DO NOT OVERWORK! The dough should just come together and just pull away from the sides of the bowl) if too wet, add a little flour at a time until it comes together - If too dry, add a tsp of buttermilk at a time until the dough loosens up - The dough should just be able to be handled and shaped
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead 4-5 times - Shape into a ball and gently flatten into a disk shape that will fit into the Dutch oven - Give the dough round a light dusting of flour
Cut a cross in the top with a clean, sharp knife that has been dipped in flour to prevent sticking
Transfer the dough round to the preheated Dutch oven - Cover and bake on the center rack for 30-35 minutes until well risen - Remove cover and continue to bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until golden brown
Remove from oven and turn out loaf onto a wire rack and allow to cool for 30-45 minutes before serving (the bottom of the loaf will sound hollow when tapped if fully cooked)
Slice medium-thick and serve warm with Irish butter -OR- Cut into wedges or thick 'hunks' and serve warm alongside soups and stews -OR- Slice thin to use for sandwiches (you will need the loaf to cool longer if going this rout - apx 2 hours before slicing)