The Hard-To-Find Flour Irish Soda Bread Is Traditionally Made With

If you've got an Irish grandmother, the following scene might be familiar. You've stopped by to visit Gran, pleasantries are exchanged, comments are made about your physique, and you're ushered into the kitchen where two things are waiting for you: strong tea and freshly baked soda bread. Ireland has a lot of symbols, but one of its most endearing and delicious is soda bread.

Irish soda bread can be traced back to the Native Americans, who derived pearl ash from wood to use as a leavening alternative to yeast, according to Trafalgar. The Irish started making soda bread en masse when baking soda became available in the 1830s, and it was essential eating through the Irish famine a decade later. When food became scarce, bread needed to be made with the cheapest ingredients available. This is why traditional soda bread has just four ingredients: wholemeal flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. If you want to make it yourself, the latter three ingredients are easy to locate at the average grocery store. On the other hand, wholemeal flour is much more difficult to track down in the U.S.

It's all in the flour

Brown Irish soda bread is defined by its crumbly texture. This is achieved with the use of "soft" flour. The Society of the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread explains that the type of flour in the U.S. is "hard" whole wheat flour, which lends itself well to yeasted rises. Soft flour does not rise well with yeast and is better in quick breads like soda bread.

The difference between American whole wheat flour and Irish wholemeal flour is a matter of consistency. Cook's Illustrated explains that American whole wheat flour is ground to a uniform consistency. Using it to make traditional soda bread will lead to an exceptionally dense, heavy bread. Wholemeal flour, on the other hand, still contains pieces of bran and germ from the wheat seeds. The bran and germ create a coarser consistency in the bread and a nutty flavor. You could always order Irish flour online, but a simpler solution is substituting part of the whole wheat flour with additional bran and germ. According to Thrive Cuisine, you will likely find wheat germ and bran in the cereal or bulk ingredients aisles in the grocery store.