The 2 Ingredients You Must Add Carefully When Making Irish Soda Bread

Like many of our favorite foods, Irish soda bread originated as a delicious response to intense poverty. So-called "peasant food" is typically as imaginative as it is simple, and crusty, hearty soda bread is no exception. As the name implies, soda bread is leavened with baking soda instead of yeast, so there's no need to wait for the dough to rise before baking. The other ingredients are flour (usually white and whole wheat) and salt with optional sugar, butter, and either milk or buttermilk. It's easy, inexpensive, and delectable.

While it's true that soda bread is a relatively simple bake and great for beginners — not everyone is ready to start laminating Kouign-Amann dough, after all — there are a couple aspects of the recipe that call for careful attention. It's essential to measure the milk and baking soda carefully, or else you risk missing out on greatness. It's generally a bad idea to eyeball amounts of anything when baking, as the process generally depends upon a complex interplay of ingredients. This is doubly true for soda bread.

Balancing acid and alkaline

The amounts of baking soda and milk used in a soda bread recipe require careful balance because dairy provides the needed acidity for the soda to activate. Too little baking soda and your bread will be flat; too much and it will rise like crazy and taste terrible. As an alkaline, baking soda is naturally bitter and therefore a lousy flavoring agent. Not only do you need to measure your milk carefully, but you shouldn't use a substitute — typically, there's no problem swapping out vegan dairy options when cooking or baking, but that's not really the case here. Milk and buttermilk are slightly acidic, but most non-dairy versions are alkaline, so while their flavor might be good, they'll never activate the baking soda.

With these simple tips in mind, you can dive right into baking soda bread. Doing so will not only make your house smell divine, once the bread is out of the oven, you'll find it perfect for sopping up stew or slathering it with butter and jam. What a simple way to make any place feel more like home.