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Irish soda bread gets a bit of sweetness

Is it bread or cake?

For most of us who like Irish soda bread and either bake or buy a loaf around St. Patrick’s Day, the answer is it’s bread of course. But according to the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, we all might be eating cake.

The distinction is in the ingredients.

The Preservation Society’s website ( says the oldest published Irish soda bread recipe found to date is in the November 1836 edition of Farmer’s Magazine (London), referencing an Irish newspaper in County Down. The recipe is four simple ingredients: white flour, salt, bread soda (baking soda) and an acid such as sour milk or buttermilk. Stop there and bake it in the oven and you have traditional Irish soda bread.

Fast forward to the present day version and you’ll find a variety of additional ingredients, including sugar, raisins, eggs, butter and seeds. If your St. Patrick’s Day treat includes any of those extras, it is no longer bread, but a “spotted dog,” “railway cake” or simply just cake.

For breakfast and snack

My version of Irish soda bread definitely falls into the category of cake. Raisins, egg, sugar, vegetable oil and baking powder all go in the bowl along with the basic ingredients. I also substitute soy milk, soured with a tablespoon of vinegar, for the soured milk or buttermilk.

My husband and I like it for breakfast or a snack, but even if I called it cake, or “spotted dog,” my kids won’t touch it. It’s not a slight to my “probably some Irish in there, especially on St. Patrick’s Day” mixed heritage. They’re half Italian and they won’t eat panettone either.

Depending on the ingredients, Irish soda bread and panettone seem to fall into the category of sweet bread, having a somewhat more airy texture and being less sweet than banana bread or pumpkin bread. Some people are turned off by the candied fruit and raisins.

You can find recipes for Irish soda bread on many of the popular food websites and at the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread site.

This year, I’m going traditional, except for the dairy (one child is lactose intolerant). Maybe the whole family will enjoy it.

If you’re a soda bread baker, traditional or cakelike, the Irish American Heritage Museum (370 Broadway, Albany) is hosting its first Irish Soda Bread Competition from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday. For rules and an entry form, go to or call 427-1916.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups buttermilk or soured milk (put 1 tablespoon white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup and fill to 11⁄2 cups with your choice of dairy, soy or rice milk)
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil 8-inch round baking dish. Set aside.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Add milk product, egg and vegetable oil. Stir with fork until ingredients are moistened. Stir in raisins. Pour into prepared dish.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from dish. Cool completely on wire rack. Makes one 8-inch round loaf.

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