Easy Whole Wheat Sourdough Irish Soda Bread

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Made with 100% whole wheat flour, buttermilk, sourdough discard, and a few simple ingredients, this sourdough Irish soda bread recipe is a simple twist on a classic. Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day!

whole wheat sourdough soda bread on a wooden cutting board next to butter.

I’ve been wanting to make my own version of Irish soda bread for a while and I knew I wanted to use my sourdough starter in some way. After researching the history of soda bread, I realized that the version many of us eat here in the United States for St. Patrick’s Day is really not authentic.

Real Irish soda bread hails from the early 1800s and is a type of quick bread made from soft wheat flour and sour milk with a little salt and baking soda. Soft wheat is closer to whole wheat pastry flour, which is a fantastic substitute for hard wheat flour!

Traditional soda bread generally does not contain sugar, eggs, or dried fruits, as those ingredients were not readily available during the Irish Potato Famine. (In fact, most Irish wheat was exported to England during the famine, and the Irish ate cornmeal imported from the US!)

For this modernized version, I decided to keep the raisins for a little contrast and flavor and added a small amount of butter to make the dough soft and tender. I kept the 100% whole wheat flour and tangy buttermilk for a more traditional flavor and texture, though. I hope you love it and spend a little time researching this interesting bread before St. Patrick’s Day!

What is Sourdough Irish Soda Bread?

Since traditional Irish soda bread is a quick bread, not a yeasted bread, it really does not need any sourdough. However, I find the tangy flavor of sourdough really highlights the flavor of the whole wheat flour and makes the bread a little softer than normal! 

So, to clarify, this is not a yeasted bread. There is no rising process of bulk fermentation. You really just mix everything together, let it rest a bit to give the wheat flour a chance to absorb some moisture, then bake!

slice of whole wheat sourdough soda bread with butter and honey.

Why you’ll love this sourdough Irish soda bread recipe


  • USE YOUR SOURDOUGH DISCARD – If you’re a sourdough baker, this great recipe is a nice way to use starter that’s a little past its prime. I’ve tried it with active starter and discard, and it’s great both ways!
  • MADE WITH WHOLE GRAINS – ​This recipe is similar to traditional soda bread recipes in that it’s unsweetened and uses whole wheat flour. This is a nice way to add some extra fiber to your diet!
  • SIMPLE AND TRADITIONAL STYLE – Traditional Irish soda bread is generally made from “wheaten meal,” sour milk, salt, and baking soda, which was a handy way to leaven bread without yeast. Although this version does contain yeast in the form of sourdough starter, it’s not given the time to raise the dough. It’s a nice way to reduce food waste and put all of that starter to work!

Equipment

To make this sourdough soda bread recipe, you’ll need:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Pastry cutter or fork
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Sharp knife or bread lame
  • Instant read thermometer (optional, but recommended)
  • Wire cooling rack
ingredients for sourdough soda bread recipe.

Ingredients

  • Whole wheat flour – This recipe is only formulated for whole wheat flour, so please do not substitute all purpose flour unless you adjust the liquid ingredients as well. 
  • Sourdough discard – You can either use sourdough starter at its peak or starter that’s collapsed. I’ve tried it both ways with great results. I use a 100% hydration starter.
  • Cold butter –  Since the traditional Irish soda bread recipe is often quite dry, I like to cut in a little cold butter for a softer, more tender texture.
  • Baking soda – This is where the name comes from! It’s not soda bread without baking soda. Don’t skip it!
  • Salt – This will bring out the flavors in the dough.
  • Buttermilk – The baking soda will react with the lactic acid in the buttermilk for a nice rise. You can use whole milk with a splash of vinegar, but real buttermilk is best.
  • Raisins or dried currants – These are entirely optional and not traditional.

How to Make Sourdough Irish Soda Bread

  1. Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.
  2. Place the flour, cubed cold butter, baking soda, and salt in the mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until it is in small pea-sized pieces.
  3. Add the sourdough starter, buttermilk and raisins. Stir until the flour mixture is fully combined. Gently press the dough into a large ball (do not knead).
  4. Place the ball of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and press it down slightly until it has a domed shape.
  5. Use a sharp knife or bread lame to cut a deep cross into the top, then place the soda bread in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while the dough is resting. Once the oven is preheated, bake the bread for 35-45 minutes or until the soda bread is fully cooked and golden brown on the outside. If the bread is browning too must, feel free to cover it with a little aluminum foil. Tip: Use an internal thermometer to check for doneness. The bread should reach 195-205 degrees F.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing and serving with fresh butter.

Storing Suggestions

Real soda bread is usually wrapped in cloth straight out of the oven to keep it soft. This whole wheat soda bread can be stored in an airtight container, like a large plastic bag, for a few days at room temperature. For longer storage, pop it in the fridge. You can also freeze it, but since it’s such a quick bread to make, I don’t usually bother with this!

Tips & Variations

  • Add a little sweetness. Feel free to add up to a tablespoon of honey or white sugar for a sweeter loaf.
  • For extra flavor, add some orange zest to pair with the dried fruits. Dried cranberries are a great alternative to the raisins or currants, too.
  • Since every batch of flour is slightly different and we likely keep our starters at different hydration percentages, you may find that this recipe is a little dryer or wetter than the photos show. You can always add 1 cup of buttermilk to start, then add a little extra if needed. If the mixture ends up too dry, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it comes together. It should not be wet or too firm to knead.
  • This recipe is not intended for all purpose flour, which generally requires less moisture than whole wheat. If you use the wrong flour for this easy soda bread recipe, you will not have the same results. However, whole wheat pastry flour is an acceptable and actually more traditional alternative!
  • Feel free to replace the butter with solid coconut oil. It works great in a pinch!

How to Serve Soda Bread

Soda bread tastes best with a bit of room temperature Irish butter or even your favorite herb butter! Since this version is totally unsweetened (minus the raisins), I also like to add a drizzle of homemade whipped honey on top. You’d also like it with some homemade jam, like my marionberry jam or golden raspberry jam.

It’s great for sopping up the juices from corned beef and cabbage!

sourdough soda bread loaf sliced in half.

FAQs

Do you knead sourdough soda bread?

Although I do recommend kneading the soda bread to bring the dough together, you don’t actually knead this dough. It’s not a yeasted dough, so you don’t need to develop the gluten like other homemade bread recipes. In fact, you don’t want to knead the dough as it can make the bread dense and chewy. Just bring the dough together, then mold it into a mound on the pan, and bake. 

Is soda bread like sourdough?

No. Soda bread is a quick bread leavened by baking soda, hence the name. Sourdough is made from cultivating natural yeast and then using that instead of commercial yeast to get a light, fluffy texture. Sourdough recipes generally take a long time as they have to go through the full fermentation process. You can use leftover starter in your soda bread, but it isn’t there to raise the dough at all.

What can I add to soda bread for extra flavor?

True soda bread is generally a very simple, rustic recipe with four basic ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda. I like to add sourdough discard for a softer texture and slightly tangier flavor. Since this recipe calls for whole wheat, it can be helpful to add a little butter to keep it nice and tender. The raisins are totally optional! You can also add up to a tablespoon of sugar, chopped nuts, or other dried fruits for a sweet loaf. Citrus zest is quite nice, too! For a more savory option, add some caraway seeds instead.

Related Recipes

whole loaf of soda bread with sourdough discard and whole wheat flour.
whole wheat sourdough soda bread on a wooden cutting board.

Whole Wheat Sourdough Irish Soda Bread

This whole wheat sourdough soda bread recipe is the perfect side dish for St. Patrick's Day or anytime you need a quick bread! It's great with a little butter and honey or corned beef and cabbage.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Resting Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Course bread
Cuisine irish
Servings 12 slices
Calories 185 kcal

Equipment

  • medium mixing bowl
  • half sheet pan
  • Parchment paper or silicone mat
  • Sharp knife

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup raisins, optional

Instructions
 

  • Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.
  • Place the flour, cubed cold butter, baking soda, and salt in the mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until it is in small pea-sized pieces.
  • Add the sourdough starter, buttermilk and raisins. Stir until the flour mixture is fully combined. Gently press the dough into a large ball (do not knead).
  • Place the ball of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and press it down slightly until it has a domed shape.
  • Use a sharp knife or bread lame to cut a deep cross into the top, then place the soda bread in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while the dough is resting. Once the oven is preheated, bake the bread for 35-45 minutes or until the soda bread is fully cooked and golden brown on the outside. If the bread is browning too must, feel free to cover it with a little aluminum foil. Tip: Use an internal thermometer to check for doneness. The bread should reach 195-205 degrees F.
  • Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing and serving with fresh butter.

Notes

Store any leftover soda bread in an airtight container at room temperature for 3-4 days.
Technically, the butter is optional, but it gives the bread a softer texture.

Nutrition

Calories: 185kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 5gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 452mgPotassium: 187mgFiber: 4gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 152IUVitamin C: 0.3mgCalcium: 36mgIron: 1mg
Keyword sourdough soda bread, whole wheat soda bread, whole wheat sourdough discard soda bread
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