Irish bread, American-style

Why is it that all of us Irish-Americans seem so nostalgic about the Emerald Isles, yet we seize every opportunity to change its native foods?

Take potatoes, for instance. Back at the turn of the last century, when many of our Irish forebears were fleeing both the aftermath of the Famine, and British rule, a typical treatment of potatoes was boiled. Not diced and boiled and served with butter and fresh parsley. Not whipped and mashed with roasted garlic. Just… boiled.

And soda bread. Not our American Irish soda bread, made with creamy white flour and eggs and butter and sugar, studded with currants and flecked with caraway seeds. But Irish soda bread: coarse whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk (if you were flush), or sour milk (if you were struggling).

I have no illusions about traditional Irish food. It’s plain, basic peasant fare. Salt of the earth, like the farm families who ate it for sustenance. They weren’t looking for gourmet; they just wanted to avoid starvation. In the Ireland of 150 years ago, the measure of success was simply staying alive.

But on these shores, with our abundance of native riches, boiled potatoes have gradually morphed into baked potatoes with sour cream and butter and crumbled bacon, McDonald’s fries, and hashed browns.

And brown bread? Long gone, though we’re keeping it alive online here with some pretty tasty recipes for Irish Brown Bread.

Americanized Irish soda bread, with its strong caraway component, isn’t to everyone’s taste. But if you happen to like the sweetness of currants married to the assertive, peppery flavor of caraway (I do), then you’ll find comfort in these muffins, a single-serve version of the traditional large round or loaf.

Bake muffins in green papers, and they’ll keep Irish eyes smiling at your office St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Are cookies more your style? Try our Irish Cream Shortbread.

Read our Irish Soda Bread Muffins recipe as you follow along with these pictures.

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Our Irish-style wholemeal flour is modeled on Ireland’s traditional brown bread flour.

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Wholemeal flour (at right, above), is more coarsely ground (see the flecks of bran?) than our white whole wheat flour (at left, above).

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This is a simple stir-together muffin recipe. Place all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.

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Stir to combine.

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In a separate bowl, combine an egg with buttermilk (or yogurt, or sour cream).

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Stir to combine, then add vegetable oil or melted butter.

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Stir till smooth.

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Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients in the bowl.

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Mix till thoroughly combined; the batter will be stiff.

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Get our your muffin pan, and grease it, or line it with papers; for best release (no crumbles), grease the papers. I’m using these pretty swirly green cupcake papers. But I’m lining them with plain white papers first. Why?

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Because the colors of the paper cups stay more vibrant. See the difference? The right-hand muffin has a double liner.

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I like to use a muffin scoop to fill the cups. It’s fast, easy, and makes each muffin the same size.

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You’ll fill the cups pretty full; the edge of the batter won’t reach the rim of the cup, but it’ll be mounded up in the center.

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Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar. Or green sugar, if the Hibernian spirit moves you. If you don’t have a supply of coarse white sugar in your pantry, I recommend it highly. It’s an all-purpose “spiffer-upper” for muffins, cupcakes, or scones that might otherwise look kinda blah.

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Packed with currants and caraway, sprinkled with sugar… this is NOT your great-grandfather’s Irish soda bread.

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And here they are, ready to enjoy. These are soft and lovely served warm, with or without butter. They’re fairly low in fat, so as they cool they become craggier/crustier. If you want to restore them to their softer state, simply put them back in the muffin tin, tent with foil, and warm for about 5 to 7 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Irish Soda Bread Muffins.

Oh, and while you’re at it, just in time for St. Pat’s Day, read, rate, and review our recipe for Easy Corned Beef and Cabbage—again, NOT your great-grandfather’s version.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Breadsong Bakery, Auburndale, MA: Irish Soda Bread, made with caraway seeds, raisins, and buttermilk, 28-oz. loaf, $8.95

Bake at home: One dozen Irish Soda Bread Muffins, made with caraway seeds, currants, and buttermilk, 31 oz. total, $3.68


PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Bridgett

    I love the muffin liner tip! That is priceless! I am so tired of buying pretty liners only to have the cupcake batter “bleed” through! And I am impressed that you sell both the Irish inspired liners and the “Irish” flour. Soda bread is something I make only for St. Paddy’s Day. My family looks forward to it along side our traditional corned beef and cabbage meal for that special Irish Holiday.

    Reply
  2. Keri

    I’ll have to give these a try sometime, just to see what they’re like. I’ve never made Americanized soda bread before, just the flour/baking soda/salt/buttermilk version. Too me, when it’s fresh or sliced and toasted the next day– it’s really great.

    Keri, this is more like cake – just wanted to manage your expectations here, since you’re a soda bread fan… PJH

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  3. Üdo Ümami

    Oooo dear do I love Irish Soda treats! Yes indeed, soda bread conqüers dread! A nice warm slice o’ müffin with some hot steaming tea will whisk away woe and inspire literary genüis (why do you think the Irish produce so many great writers, eh?) I can not wait to try this recipe this weekend… will post the resülts too! ::irish step-dances into kitchen:: xoxo <3 Üdo

    Reply
  4. Joie de vivre

    These are so pretty with the coarse sugar on top. Thanks for highlighting your Irish style wholemeal flour and the brown bread recipe! I hadn’t heard of the wholemeal flour, now I must try it!

    Reply
  5. Theresa

    My Irish grandma used to make legendary good Irish soda bread. She never used a written recipe. A few years ago we made her write out the recipe so the rest of us could bake it, but she wrote it out like “add some flour, a little baking soda, a little salt, add some buttermilk but not too much” etc etc. Needless to say, no one else in the family can recreate her bread and and none our loaves come out as good as hers.

    I love the idea of making the bread into a cake/muffin form, I never even thought of this. I’m used to a very dense, crubmly bread, which is excellent toasted with a little butter on top. I’ll definitely try the muffins for St. Pat’s day. Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
  6. Nancy

    Hi. I love your recipes, but I have a minor complaint. Can you format them so they fit on one page? The fancy headers, comments and pictures are not really necessary in the printable version. This one went about two inches onto the next page. I know not all recipes can fit on one page, but this one easily could have.

    Reply
  7. Marian

    I am glad the cupcake liner info is here. When I tried cupcake liners on the website they did not come up! All the colors are pretty too.

    Reply
  8. benita

    I often use KF whole wheat flour and add wheat bran (and sometimes wheat germ to get a nuttier flavor) to it when I want to put more fiber in recipes. I usually just short the whole wheat flour and add a handful of wheat bran in its place. Would that trick work with this recipe so that I can bake the muffins this weekend and still have the same texture as you described. Give it a try. You may discover a whole new terrific recipe! Molly@KAF

    Reply
  9. Marcia

    The Irish American Soda Bread recipe in your Whole Grain Baking cookbook was one of the first recipes I made after purchasing the book. The bread was exceptionally delicious and I’m guessing that these muffins will be just as good. The muffin idea is great – I won’t be tempted to eat the whole loaf myself…….. You can bet I’ll be trying this recipe well before St. Patrick’s Day!

    Reply
  10. Vicky

    Can these be made using all white flour? If so, what changes, if any need to be made. Whole wheat flour–even if traditional–won’t work in our house. And a more ‘cake like’ or sweet bread will be appreciated. thanks! You can substitute all white flour for the whole wheat flour in the recipe. Just reduce the buttermilk by two tablespoons and add it back in little by little if the batter seems too dry. Molly@KAF

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  11. Deanna

    Is it necessary to use paper liners? I never do for my regular muffins. Thanks.

    Nope, not necessary at all, Deanna. They’re nice when you’re going to be bringing the muffins to work, or a potluck, or for a weekend at someone’s house, etc. PJH

    Reply
  12. gayle

    Just wondering about the muffin scoop. I’m left handed and alot of times I have trouble using these things. Got any suggestions?

    Learn to use it right-handed? Don’t mean to be flip, Gayle, but I’m right-handed and have had so many shoulder issues in my right shoulder I’ve learned to do everything (but write) left-handed… You could also hold the scoop in your left hand, facing down, scoop the (thick) muffin batter and quickly drop it into the cup, using your index finger to push the lever instead of your thumb. Also, they do make left-handed ice cream scoops – check out one of those catalogs for left-handers, they’ll probably have one. Good luck – PJH

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  13. Beth

    To Benita who mentioned trying to get more fiber in her bread: Yesterday I made two loaves of bread from a recipe that used 1 cup of cracked wheat (soaked in 2 cups of heated buttermilk), 1/2 cup of wheat germ, 3 cups of whole wheat flour (I used the KAF White whole wheat) and just a little over 1-1/2 cups of bread flour. Very tasty results. The recipe wasn’t King Arthur’s, but I used all King Arthur ingredients. Maybe the proportions in this recipe will help you.

    Reply
  14. Kathleen

    Since we are Irish, I would like to make these for my family. Can I leave out the caraway seeds? That’s a great tip about the cupcake papers and showing the Irish flour next to the white whole wheat flour was also helpful. I didn’t know what the difference was. Thank you

    Of course, leave ‘em out, Kathleen – they’re just there for flavor. Enjoy- PJH

    Reply
  15. Trisha

    I have to say, I agree with Nancy about the fancy headers on the printed recipe. We’re trying to be ecological here and not use so much paper AND ink! Great looking recipe–can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
  16. Carol

    To Nancy and Trisha, who want to save paper and ink. Here is what I do: I copy what I want to save (Control + A if that means the entire page; otherwise highlight what I want and hold down Control + C) and paste (Control + V) into Word. If it takes up too much space, I change the font and/or size to something that is still easy to read. If I want to keep a too-large picture, I “shrink” it to fit. As is true of many tasks, this takes longer to read than to do. Hope this helps! I would love to know where I could buy colored cupcake papers!

    Thanks for your help, Carol. You can buy colored cupcake papers right here at kingarthurflour.com – we sell them in a nice range of swirl colors, plus an array of others (seasonal, etc.) Take a look- PJH

    Reply
  17. Johnnie Bunton

    Why do you not print the nutritional amounts in you recipes?
    I am on Weight Watchers and it would make it a lot easier to choose the lower fat recipes. Thanks.

    Sorry, Johnnie – truthfully, we don’t have the manpower to do a nutritional rundown on all of our recipes; it’s an incredibly long and involved process, believe it or not. Take a look at Susan Reid’s posts; she’ll often have the Weight Watcher points listed. And The Baking Sheet, our print newsletter, also lists Weight Watchers points. Hope this helps somewhat. PJH

    Reply
  18. Donna

    I like to copy and paste recipes, too–I copy, go to my e-mail, and paste into a message, which I e-mail to myself. Then I save it in a folder and only print it out if and when I get around to making it. Quick and easy!

    These muffins look really attractive in their colorful papers, with the sugar crystals on top.

    Reply
  19. benita

    I tried this recipe last weekend and the muffins were de-lish. I just threw in a handful of whole wheat bran and the recipe worked out fine. Next time I will experiment with increasing the liquid a little – but not by much.

    I do have another question. Why grease the muffin papers? I have been seeing this advise in lots of recipes lately and wonder why. I have been baking with muffin papers for 35 years and it is only in the last couple of years that I have seen this step added into the recipes. I did not grease the muffin papers I used for this recipe and things turned out just fine.

    Benita, with some of the lower fat muffin recipes out there, and some of the cheaper papers, muffins may stick without greasing. It’s kind of a “failsafe” all-purpose warning, but you surely don’t need to do it if muffins slip out of the papers without greasing… PJH

    Reply
  20. Diane Duane

    BTW, a note from an Irish-American resident now for more than twenty years in Ireland: Over here we absolutely *do* have soda-based breads full of caraway and/or fruit and milk and eggs and whatnot. *But nobody calls them soda bread*. That’s all. The sweet breads with additives are referred to by the general class names of “tea breads”, “luncheon loaves”, sweet breads”, etc.

    Over here the term “soda bread” is reserved specifically for the traditional “plain soda” treatments — white or brown cake bread (oven-baked in a round with a cross cut on it so the loaf will flower correctly) or white farl (cut in quarters and baked on the griddle). To these everyday breads, nobody ever adds fruit or caraway or whatever: these are reserved for the tea breads.

    Our European food website has a soda bread page with video tutorials that gets a lot of attention this time of year, if anyone’s interested. It’s here:

    http://www.europeancuisines.com/Peters-Mums-Soda-Bread-Recipe

    The recipe from my husband’s Mum goes back to the turn of the last century and is about as authentic as it gets, for those seeking authenticity. We also have her readings of traditional variants on the basic theme (treacle bread, fruit sodas, etc.)

    Anyway, your recipe looks lovely. :) Super to see that King Arthur is doing an Irish-style wholemeal. Also, great thought re: the ice cream scoop: must try that for muffins some time soon.

    Best — Diane

    Diane, thanks so much for the information, and for the link. I’m definitely going to check it out. Like so many Americans my forebears were from Ireland (grandfather from Donegal), so I do have that little tug working on me… Thanks for sharing. PJH

    Reply
  21. Roseann Barrese

    I made these yesterday and they were wonderful. I used plain yogurt, the whole 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds and the currants. They were perfect – just the amounts of everything that we like. In addition to the white sprinkling sugar, I did add a small amount of green sprinkles to add a little color as I did not use cupcake papers! It’s definitely a keeper!

    Reply
  22. Patti O'Brien

    I made these last weekend and they were wonderfully tasty. This recipe is a keeper, so easy and so flavorful. I’m not a fan caraway seeds but it did give the muffins a hint of tast that went very well with Irish Breakfast tea. (I love this company and it’s recipes!)

    Thanks Patti – glad you liked them! PJH

    Reply
  23. Michelle S.

    I made these yesterday and they are almost all gone. My husband and I ate almost half of them last night. We couldn’t stop at eating just one each. They are everything I wanted them to be and more. I found it very easy to make and I am thinking about making another batch this afternoon to take with me for a get together. The only thing I did differently was not use the caraway seeds because I forgot to buy them.

    Reply
  24. Beth @ 990 Square

    I know this recipe is almost a year old, so I’m not sure if I’ll get an answer to this question but it’s worth a try. I’m going to be a houseguest this weekend and I wanted to bring some of these as a gift. I would be baking on Thursday night and these would likely be eaten on Saturday morning. Will the muffins be too dry by then? Usually, I wouldn’t be concerned, but because of the warning about thse being crusty, I thought I would check. Thanks!
    Hi Beth,
    Yes, the muffins will not be their best by Saturday if left on their own. What you could do is bake on Thurs, freeze on Friday am, then take out Friday pm to thaw overnight to serve on Saturday. Hope this helps. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  25. jerrimiller

    I’m glad someone said these are more cake like in texture because I was reading the comments under the actual recipe and I kept seeing scone like. To me scones are a little on the dry side and my muffins were not dry. Mine came out very tender and moist. Perhaps because I steeped the raisins in hot water and a pinch of baking soda to help plump them in the batter.

    A real winner! I am not a big fan of irish soda bread but I have to say I love this!

    Love the baking soda tip, Jerri – thanks for sharing. PJH

    Reply
  26. Lisa

    I am looking forward to making these, they look delicious. I was wondering if I would be able to make this receipe into a round loaf instead of muffins?


    We have not tried these in a larger shape. I think the batter may need a bit of support. You might try using a greased pie plate. Give it a try. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  27. marylynblake@yahoo.com

    I have my Mother’s Irish Soda Bread it is nothing like the ones you have would you like me to send it ?
    Sincerely,
    Marylyn Blake
    Jacksonville N C
    Sure thing Marylyn, email us at bakers@kingarthurflour.com! ~Jessica

    Reply
  28. hobbsgirl

    Do you use black caraway seeds, or does it matter?

    I use the regular tan seeds; you can certainly use black if you wish, there’s not that much difference (though I think the black might be a tiny bit less potent?). PJH

    Reply

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