When we first moved to Houston from Dallas, one of our new neighbors greeted us with a homemade gift. “Welcome to the neighborhood!” she said. “I made you some Irish soda bread—it’s my favorite!” She then handed over a foil-wrapped package, still warm from the oven. It was a fine welcome.
After expressing gratitude, my mom and I took the bread into the kitchen. As I’d never heard of Irish soda bread, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My first surprise was that it wasn’t green, as at that young age green was my only association with Ireland since wearing it on St. Patrick’s Day kept you from being pinched. But no, this bread instead was light brown with a craggy crust. If anything it reminded me of an oversized biscuit.
I pulled off a small piece and took a bite—it was soft and flaky with a hint of sweetness. It was so flavorful and tender I ate it unadorned, though a pat of cold butter would not have been unwelcome. It was very good—so good in fact that my mom had to warn me to stop eating it lest I ruin my appetite for dinner. Since I had never had Irish soda bread in Dallas, I wondered if it was a popular bread in Houston. The conclusion was that it wasn’t particular to Houston, just to our friendly neighbor (and Ireland, of course). But no matter its provenance, it was still a treat.
Over the next few days, we ate slices from the loaf. Even after it had cooled, it was still tender and sweet. I loved that bread and when we finally reached the end of the loaf I was very disappointed. Now here’s the thing. My hope had been that we would get the Irish soda bread recipe from our new neighbor and we’d continue baking it ourselves at home. But for some reason that never happened, and then those neighbors moved away, taking their recipe with them.
As much as I loved that bread, without a recipe I eventually forgot about making it and became obsessed with other cooking projects instead. But one day while going through a file of old Texan recipes, I came across one for Irish soda bread. Remembering that delicious loaf I had enjoyed so many years ago, I made a loaf. And what do you know? The simple recipe tasted (at least to my memory) as tender and sweet as the one I’d eaten so long ago.
Now, the basic recipe for Irish soda bread is in no need of embellishment. But if you’re feeling a little decadent, I highly recommend throwing in some tangy Irish cheddar and smoky Irish bacon, along with some green onions for a bit of green. (You don’t want to get pinched, after all.) And if you can’t find Irish cheddar or Irish bacon, white cheddar and Canadian bacon are perfect substitutions.
This Irish cheddar and bacon soda bread is best warm out of the oven. You can top it with a fried egg for a hearty breakfast, or serve it alongside a big bowl of soup. Though if you’re like me you may find that you enjoy it on its own, perhaps with a small bit of butter. But no matter how it’s served, you’ll want to share it with someone as it’s just too good to eat alone.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 ounces cooked Irish bacon
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup grated Irish cheddar (4 ounces)
4 green onions or scallions, chopped, green part only
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a skillet on medium-low heat, warm up the oil. Add the Irish bacon to the skillet, and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove from the skillet and chop the bacon.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, kosher salt, granulated sugar, Irish cheddar, chopped Irish bacon and green onions until well blended. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together.
Form the dough into a round loaf and place on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.