Irish soda bread is a type of quick bread that should be in everyone’s repertoire. The loaves are delicious and easy to make – and there are almost unlimited options for putting your own twist on the traditional recipe. The basic loaf is a plain bread that has a rich buttermilk flavor. It’s good on its own (served with butter and jam – my favorite), but you can also make the bread either sweet or savory with a few simple changes. This Irish Cheddar and Herb Soda Bread is a wonderful savory version of a traditional soda bread that is perfect for pairing with hearty stews and warm soups.
The bread is flavored with a generous amount of aged Irish cheddar cheese, which I chose both because it had a delicious flavor and because it tied in nicely with the Irish origin of this bread, and a generous dash of herbs. For the herbs, I used an Herbs de Provence spice blend that is made with thyme, fennel, basil, savory, and lavender. It may not be traditionally Irish, but it worked beautifully with the flavorful Irish cheddar cheese. You could substitute fresh herbs like dill or chives, or your own blend of dried herbs to customize this to suit your tastes. You can also substitute in a different cheddar cheese if you don’t have an Irish cheddar, though I recommend using a higher quality cheddar for the best results in the loaf.
The bread has a crisp exterior crust and a soft center. You can really smell the aromatic herbs, especially when the loaf is fresh, and the cheese adds a nice richness and a hint of salt to the bread. It is good on its own, but it is also excellent when spread with some soft (Irish) butter. Like most soda breads, this one is hand-shaped and baked on a regular baking sheet. You’ll have to get your hands a little bit dirty while shaping the dough, but that is part of the fun of making homemade bread – even simple recipes like this one. It only takes about 5 minutes to put this loaf together and put it into the oven, which means that you can make it even on the busiest evenings and still have fresh bread for dinner.
Irish Cheddar and Herb Soda Bread
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Herbs de Provence (or dried dill)
1 cup shredded Irish cheddar, divided
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. Stir in half of the buttermilk, the herbs and 3/4 cup of shredded cheddar. Pour in remaining buttermilk, and stir until dough comes together into shaggy ball.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 1 minute, just until the dough comes together and you can shape it into a fairly smooth ball. Press into a disc about 1 1/2 inches high and place on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cut a deep cross in the top with a sharp knife.
Bake 30-35 minutes, until the top is a dark golden brown. A toothpick will come out clean when inserted into the center.
Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf, serves 8