The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Revealed: the spiritual side of Irish soda bread

Here’s something I never knew: the spiritual seeds of Irish soda bread. According to this item from America Magazine, it has to do with the cross that is cut on top:

It’s scientific, primarily, because it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, so it assists cooking. And obviously the cross is a cruciform shape, so in a Catholic country that had a resonance — it had the symbolic note of crossing the breads and giving thanks. There was also the expression “to let the devil out of the bread,” so it was slightly superstitious. And if you make that cruciform shape on the bread, when it comes out of the oven it breaks beautifully. So you’ve got the blessing of the bread by putting the cross on it and then you’ve got the symbolic breaking of the bread.


But wait! There’s more! The recipe, below:


3 ½ cups of flour 

¾ cup of sugar 

3 tsps. baking powder 

½ tsp. baking soda 

½ tsp. salt
¼ cup of butter – melted 

1 pint of sour cream 

1 cup or more of raisins 

1 egg – beaten


Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Mix in melted butter by hand. Add raisins and mix again, by hand. Add beaten egg and sour cream. Mix thoroughly by hand. Put in greased and floured 9″ round layer-cake pan. Cut a cross in it. Say a prayer. Bake for 55 minutes at 375 degrees. Insert a knife into the center of the bread to test if it is done. If it is cooked all the way through, the knife should come out clean. Remove loaf from pan. Cool and enjoy.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

When I was growing up, my mother always made a cross and the letters JMJ on top of her pies, as her mother did, in honor of the Holy Family.
I continue the tradition along with sprinkling the pie with milk so the crust will brown up nicely. One day after watching me do this many times over the years my young daughter asked if she could ‘baptize’ the pie!

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Ed O'Dwyer

posted March 18, 2010 at 10:10 am

That is a great recipe for a modern-day tea cake, but the Traditional Irish Soda Bread that graced the daily table in late 19th century Ireland and the part of the 20th century I lived in, does not have all the extra fancy ingredients. Flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk are the ingredients of Irish Soda Bread and in Ulster, a handful of caraway seeds. Stop by for more on the history of Irish Soda Bread.

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posted March 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Ed O’Dwyer is spot on!

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