Luck Of The Irish Soda Bread

You can tell how old you’re getting by how you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Once upon a time, St. Patty’s Day meant breaking out my green and white striped cropped tube top and plastic drugstore shamrock baubles and drinking enough green beer to turn my belly button emerald from the inside out.

farandawayThese days, I stay home and watch my Far & Away DVD and make Irish soda bread, with only a smidgen of wistfulness.

Searching for recipes, I found that soda bread is something of a touchy subject, everyone seems to have their own variation, to which they’re very loyal. Going to the source is always a winning strategy when seeking an authentic formula, so I browsed flights to Dublin on Aer Lingus. Then I remembered I was out of vacation time, which squelched that dream, so I started poking around for a more local source. Did I know any Portland Irish?

I was standing in the refrigerator doorway, eating Jacobs Creamery chocolate pudding out of the container with a very large spoon and pondering my dilemma, when it dawned on me–Jacobs Creamery’s ebullient cheesemaker Lisa Jacobs not only makes amazing cheese, but she is also an honest-to-goodness Irish lass.

I petitioned her for her family recipe, and to my delight, she consented to share it. It’s been handed down from her Irish ancestors but now has a local twist–Lisa makes this hardy bread with her own handchurned butter and buttermilk.

Lisa Jacobs Irish Soda Bread–the Unedited Version

I have some very lovely memories of the childhood summers and holidays I spent in Dublin with my grandmother, Nana. She is full of spirit and like a true Irishwoman, doesn’t take guff from anyone. She was inclined to stop the car to answer her mobile (no matter where we were), and she’d whip out some deadly red lipstick and write vitriolic messages on any car that dared to take her spot outside her apartment in Ballsbridge. When I visited, we would go to the shops, where she would buy me little scones with plump raisins, and then we’d go to a film, or spend the afternoon in a castle sipping tea.

One morning I was perched on the edge of the hearth with a delicate cup of tea, watching her do the ironing (she loves to iron), and we started chatting about boys. It was one of those girly conversations-I was telling her about the boys I was dating at the time. She wasn’t so amused with the fact that there was more than one, but I was quick to point out the unique attributes of each. “My little Lisa Shmisa,” she said, “One day you’re going to meet a very special boy and you’re not going to want him to go away, and when that happens make him this.”

With that she handed me a small piece of well-worn brown paper with a very delicate cursive script written on it, folded three times. Inside I found a recipe for my Nana’s Nana’s Irish soda bread. It was and still is a favorite of mine, and is best eaten with a pat of butter and a slice of lox.

To really get the best out of the recipe, it’s suggested (by me) that you get some hip hoppin’ Irish tunes going while you’re whipping up this magic in the kitchen. Favorites of mine are Cockles and Mussels, Danny Boy and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

I am still holding on to Nana’s original recipe, waiting for that hunk of a man that I don’t want to let go, and I have improved upon it by the only means possible–I use my own Jacobs Creamery butter in the recipe, and my very delectable buttermilk. It’s perfect – enjoy it with someone whom you don’t want to go away. :)

3 cups all purpose flour (I use Odlums cream flour, from Dublin)
3 cups whole wheat flour (or Odlums wholemeal flour)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup Jacobs Creamery butter, cold and cubed in 1/4-1/2 cubes
2 cups Jacobs Creamery buttermilk

Coat baking sheet in butter. Crank the oven up to 425˚F and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

sodabreadpeas1. Mix the flours together in a bowl with the baking soda and sugar. Use a whisk to mix them, it creates a fluffiness.

2. Add the butter and mix (use your hands to work the butter through the dry mixture) ’til the butter is pea- sized, then add the buttermilk (shake the buttermilk up before using it, but don’t create too many bubbles).

sodabreadshaped3. Knead the dough until it comes together. You can do this on the counter, dust it with white flour first. The bread can then be shaped – traditionally it is in round loaves anywhere between 6-8 inches in size. You will get two rounds out of this recipe. You can then put the dough on the baking sheet and sc0re the top with a half inch deep “x” and pop it in the oven.


4. It should bake for about 38-40 minutes, or until you have a nice deep brown color. Don’t overcook it or it sucks. And you can’t cut into this bread while it’s warm or it sucks. If you put a tea towel over it while it cools it keeps some of the moisture in, but you can do one with and one without and see if you see a difference.

Recipe and tale courtesy of Lisa Jacobs and her Nana

I ate this fantastically dense and slightly sweet bread with honey yogurt for breakfast, and with a salmon salad for lunch. Something about its rustic look and texture made me crave stew, so I told ‘guy I don’t want to go away’ I would make Irish stew for dinner. It was a long day though, and I didn’t so much feel like cooking come supper time, so I stopped at Meat Cheese and Bread on the way home and bought two bowls of their deep, rich spicy beef stew. He didn’t mind.



As delicious as it is with a hearty smear of good butter and a bit of marmalade, traditional soda bread is not always the most exciting stuff. For my next batch, I wanted a version with some pizazz. I remembered having seen a tray of unorthodox looking soda bread at Grand Central Bakery, so I went searching and sure enough, found it on their website.

grandcentralcookbookThe Grand Central Bakery version uses no wheat flour, more butter, and baking powder along with baking soda, and accents the bread with caraway, currants, and orange zest. The result is more scone than bread-like, but very savory nonetheless, so you don’t feel like you’re eating dessert, just a very flavorful bread. It’s a lovely twist on the classic, and you can find the recipe in the The Grand Central Baking Book: Breakfast Pastries, Cookies, Pies, and Satisfying Savories from the Pacific Northwest’s Celebrated Bakery, which I bought at Powell’s Home and Garden store on SE Hawthorne.


It turned out beautifully. I ate it with loads of butter and a cup ‘o tea.


I can’t promise that having a stay-at-home St. Patrick’s Day with freshly made soda bread slathered in butter, some Irish stew, a bottle of Knappogue Castle 1951, and your Far & Away screening will be quite as, erm, celebratory as those St. Patty’s days of your youth when you and your green tube top boarded the Barfly Bus and spent the night on a blarney and Jameson-filled adventure, but as the Irish say, “An old broom knows the dirty corners best” and “What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for” and “God is good, but never dance in a small boat.” Remember that.