Today’s vegan Irish soda bread recipe is a vegan twist on the traditional unleavened bread popular in rural Ireland for generations. My version of vegan soda bread is made with no buttermilk, plus it’s free of yeast or eggs. Make a loaf around St. Patrick’s Day or any time of the year, and the whole family will enjoy its slightly sweet flavor and rustic texture!
There are conflicting opinions on whether raisins and caraway seeds belong in the authentic Irish soda bread. The purists will say that you’ll never find them in the soda bread served in Ireland. But then, the purists say a lot of stuff.
I hesitated on adding the raisins and caraway seeds at first, but then I read some more about the history of Irish soda bread as it traveled from Ireland to the US, and found out that there’s actually merit in using them.
In case you’ve never tried this type of bread before, I decided to lay out everything you have to know about Irish soda bread (and a few things you don’t). This includes how to make it vegan by skipping buttermilk, and how to bake it to perfection. Bear with me!
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– The best way to bake vegan soda bread (don’t make my mistakes!)
What is authentic Irish soda bread?
The traditional Irish soda bread is a quick unleavened (made yeast free) type of bread that people in Ireland have served with their meals since the 19th century.
A number of other countries also have variations of soda bread, but the Irish variety is known the best in the US.
As the tradition has it, the most authentic version of Irish soda bread contains just four ingredients – flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.
In the US, however, the notion of Irish soda bread always brings raisins and caraway seeds to mind. Some sources believe that it’s an Irish twist on the traditional English Spotted Dick (or Spotty Dog) – a steamed pudding made with animal fat and currants or raisins.
Other sources believe that adding raisins and caraway seeds to soda bread became popular in the US when Irish immigrants settled in large cities like New York City or Boston.
Once they assimilated with other immigrant groups, the Irish adapted new ingredients and cooking techniques from their neighbors, like adding caraway seeds from Jewish rye bread.
To sum things up, if you want the type of soda bread that’s been served in Irish homes for two centuries, don’t add raisins or caraway seeds. If you aren’t interested in going that far back in history, those add-ins will do just fine.
What is vegan Irish soda bread made of?
My version of vegan Irish soda bread is made with simple plant-based ingredients like all-purpose flour, baking soda, cornstarch, almond milk, apple cider vinegar, raisins and caraway seeds. See the full ingredient list in the recipe card below.
I also experimented with adding aquafaba as one of the ingredients. That’s definitely not a traditional way to make Irish soda bread, but it worked nicely to improve its texture that otherwise can be dry and tough.
I know that some of these ingredients don’t have ‘Ireland’ written all over them, but if we want to turn things in the vegan direction, we’ll have to accept a few changes. If the resulting vegan loaf of soda bread is just as good as the non-vegan one, who cares?
What does vegan Irish soda bread recipe use instead of buttermilk?
Buttermilk is one of the main ingredients in the traditional Irish soda bread. There are a few ways to make a reliable vegan alternative. For my vegan soda bread, I combined almond milk with a little bit of apple cider vinegar to make the milk curdle.
After that, I decided to thicken my vegan “buttermilk” with some aquafaba.
There was one more issue to resolve. Dairy-based buttermilk is fairly high in fat, which works well to make a softer, more moist soda bread. My almond milk-based “buttermilk” wasn’t nearly close to that in its fat content.
I didn’t want my soda bread to come out with the texture of a brick, so I decided to add some melted coconut oil (vegan butter can be used instead).
Also see: How to find alternatives to butter and eggs in vegan baking and not end up with cardboard.
I whisked coconut oil with sugar, then added my vegan “buttermilk” mixture. Once the wet ingredients were mixed into the dry, the acidic vinegar and alkaline baking soda did their magic to release lots of tiny gas bubbles that in turn helped the bread rise during baking.
Why does Irish soda bread use soda instead of yeast?
History and geography play a role once again. Because of the cool, damp climate of Ireland, only soft wheat used to grow there successfully. Soft wheat doesn’t have the ability to create strong strings of gluten that are so necessary for bread to rise well.
At the same time, soft wheat turned out to be perfect for using in soda bread. When baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, first became commercially available in Britain, the first recipes for soda bread were introduced, and its popularity quickly rose.
Another reason why soda bread became so popular in Ireland – it was quick to make. It didn’t need extra time for rising like yeast bread.
Baking soda and the acidic components of buttermilk (a traditionally used ingredient) react immediately, so the bread is sent into the oven as soon as the dough is mixed.
Other yeast-free baking goods recipes from the blog:
- – Vegan Pumpkin Walnut Bread
- – Healthy Vegan Double Chocolate Zucchini muffins
- – Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies with Aquafaba
Why does Irish soda bread have a cross on it?
The traditional loaf of Irish soda bread has a wide cross cut into its top before the bread is baked. There are a several theories for why it’s done.
The most logical reason – cutting the loaf before baking allows the heat of the oven to reach the center and bake it more thoroughly. Nobody wants to eat raw bread, right?
Another reason (also logical) – it’s easier to break the loaf into quarters once it’s baked. Soda bread can be quite crumbly sometimes, so it’s easier to split it up this way without cutting (if you have an appetite for eating the whole quarter).
One more reason (logical if you’re into that stuff) – the old-timey Irish bakers cut the cross into the bread to release evil spirits before baking. Hope it worked for them!
How do you cut a cross into the Irish soda bread loaf? You use a sharp knife, of course. A serrated steak knife worked the best for me.
The cut is made from side to side across the center, about 1/2 inch deep to make sure that the loaf doesn’t crack when rising in the oven – plus the heat gets through to the center better.
What’s the best way to bake vegan Irish soda bread?
Traditionally, Irish soda bread was baked in a Dutch oven-like cast iron pot called bastible. Instead of putting the pot in the oven like you’d expect, Irish housewives would hang it over a source of open fire and even put a few hot coals on top of its lid.
Times have changed, and today it’s widely accepted to bake the Irish soda bread in the oven.
A number of sources online suggest to bake the bread in a regular cake pan (I love these cake pans by Calphalon). This ensures the round shape of the loaf, plus it’s quite simple.
I’ve also seen suggestions to put another cake pan of the same size on top in an inverted position, and keep it there for most of the baking time. The moisture gets trapped as it exits the baking loaf, and helps it develop a nice, crispy exterior without overdrying the interior.
I was intrigued by that steam-baking process. Also, I’ve been a big fan of baking regular bread in a cast iron Dutch oven – another way to trap the moisture and create a great crust.
That’s why I decided to bake my first vegan Irish soda bread loaf in a cast iron Dutch oven.
The bread came out looking beautiful, as you can see above. However, as I realized right away, the cast iron got reeeeeally hot sitting in the oven for an hour (about 20 min before the dough went in, and then 40 minutes after).
As a result, even though the bread was delicious, the crust turned out to be overbaked. See the darker brown color around the edges of the piece on top:
I knew I could do better, so I decided to try again.
This time, however, I used a regular baking sheet similar to this one lined with parchment paper. I still wanted to reap the benefits of the “steam baking”, so I put a round Pyrex container filled with water right on the bottom of my oven before turning the heat on.
Important if you’re baking bread with a water-filled container on the bottom of your oven: always put the container in before you turn the heat on. If you do so after the oven has been preheated, even the most ovenproof container may crack.
This time around, I got a much better result, as you can see in the picture above. The crust was just the right thickness, with a perfect crispy texture. The loaf also rose better, and was easier to cut.
I found that the dough held its round form quite well on a baking sheet before I sent it to the oven, so I don’t think that it’s necessary to use a cake pan if you want to make sure your vegan Irish soda bread comes out nice and round.
My verdict: the best way to bake Irish soda bread is on a regular parchment-lined baking sheet. If you place an ovenproof container of water on the bottom of the oven before preheating, it will provide a steamy environment that’s beneficial for a perfectly crispy, golden crust.
How do I store Irish soda bread?
While Irish soda bread, vegan or non-vegan, tastes best right after it’s been baked, it can also be stored for 3-4 days.
To keep a loaf of vegan soda bread fresh, wait till it fully cools off, then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, and store on your countertop.
Soda bread is naturally quite dense, but it’s going to be the softest on the day of baking. The crust stays crispy on day one, and becomes chewy on day two.
How to revive stale Irish soda bread: wrap a slice into a damp paper towel, then microwave for 10-15 seconds. That’s it!
And now here’s something that I’m sure your scroll finger has been begging for – the actual recipe! 🙂
Question for you: Have you tried making Irish soda bread with no buttermilk or yeast before? I’d love to hear what steps you took to make it vegan!
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