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Southern soda bread

All Photos: Kate Williams

Southern Soda Bread


Put some South in your soda bread this St. Patrick's Day

It's early March, which means most of us are either complaining about the weather or plotting out St. Patrick's Day plans. Whether that means cozying up at home with a pot of lamb stew and slice of soda bread or heading out to the bars for green Guiness (please don't), this late winter holiday offers a slightly respite from the stir-crazy nature of the month.

At Southern Kitchen, we're taking a calm approach to the holiday and simply baking up some bread. Soda bread takes very little time at all, and can be made in what feels like mere minutes (especially if you've been spending most of your time baking long-rising no-knead bread and pizza). And it is actually more Southern than you may think.

Soda bread does, of course, come to our kitchens courtesy of Ireland, but, when you think about it, it actually has a lot in common with cornbread. At its most basic, it is made from flour, salt, leavening and buttermilk. Swap in cornmeal for the flour and you'll have the most bare-bones, traditional cornbread you can make. These are breads borne of necessity, made from affordable pantry ingredients and only occasionally doctored up with extras. Sure, most soda breads you'll find bouncing around bakeries this time of year contain all manner of sweeteners and nutty or fruity additions, but, at its core, it is a very basic bread. And a delicious one, if you make it right.
To give our soda bread a slight Southern accent, we've taken a cue from its cousin and added a scoop of yellow cornmeal to the mix. This addition makes for a slightly more dense bread, with a subtle sweetness and hint of nuttiness. We've also followed the direction of the brilliant Stella Parks over at Serious Eats, who makes her soda bread with over a pint of buttermilk — her ultra wet and sticky dough bakes up far more bread-like than the far more common muffin-ish soda breads. You'll be able to slice it for a sandwich or dunk it into a stew without crumbling. Yes, just like yeast bread.

The trick to keeping the dough contained is to bake it in a parchment-lined Dutch oven, or, if you've got it, a deep cast iron skillet with a lid on top. As with our no-knead bread, this vessel traps the steam evaporating from the baking bread, which helps to create a deeply golden brown, crackling crust that'll splinter and fly across your cutting board. Yes, just like good sourdough bread.

In fact, bake this bread once and you may just become addicted to its ease, simplicity and well-rounded flavor. You just may keep baking it long past March 17. And that's a good thing.Southern Soda Bread
Note: We used yellow cornmeal and Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt in this recipe.

Serves: 6 to 8
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/8 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 cups buttermilk

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line the bottom of a large Dutch oven with parchment paper; it is fine if the paper comes up the sides of the pot.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking soda. Stir in the buttermilk until the dough is moistened and no dry flour remains. The dough will be very sticky.

Pour the dough into the Dutch oven and use a spatula to mold it into the shape of a round loaf. Use a sharp knife to deeply score the loaf into quarters.

Cover the pot and bake until the bread is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake until it is deep brown and the center registers 210 degrees, about 10 minutes. Turn the bread out onto a wire rack, remove the parchment paper, and then flip so that the bread is right side-up. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving. The bread is best eaten on the same day it is baked, but you can keep it for up to 2 days in an airtight container; toast leftovers before serving.

Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.