My rye fennel and fig soda bread is perfect for celebrating St. Patrick's Day. It takes less than 15 minutes and requires minimum effort.
Right around St Patrick’s Day I used to look forward to buying the Irish soda breads from Sprouts! Over the years, their soda breads became a bit too sweet for me so I started making my own. Soda breads turned into an Irish household staple during the early 19th century when baking soda became commercially available. Unlike proofed bread, soda bread relies on baking soda for leavening hence the name. Traditional soda bread consists of 4 ingredients-flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with baking soda resulting in carbon dioxide bubbles forming and helping the bread rise. My version is a bit more than basic and I’m excited to share my rye fennel and fig soda bread to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
- Rye flour: for my soda bread, I’m replacing some all purpose flour with rye flour which lends a nutty flavor to the bread. If you can’t find rye flour, substitute with another wheat flour like spelt. You can read more about rye flour from King Arthur Baking.
- Buttermilk: buttermilk works wonders in leavening baked goods via chemical reaction with baking soda. Do not substitute buttermilk because the acidity of buttermilk is essential to our recipe.
- Fennel seeds: fennel seeds come from the dried seeds of the fennel plant and have a slightly sweet and licorice flavor. Look for bright green seeds as they tend to be more fresh. For this recipe use whole fennel seeds, not ground fennel. I used only half a tablespoon but feel free to add more if you're a fennel fan.
- Figs: I used dried black mission figs for this recipe. Soak them in boiling water for about 15 minutes and let them soften before chopping them. If you don’t like figs, feel free to switch them out for dried cherries, currants, or raisins.
Tips for Making Soda Bread
- Sift the dry ingredients to distribute the baking soda evenly. If the baking soda clumps, it won’t work for leavening the bread. If you bite into a spot with baking soda, you’ll get an unpleasant metallic taste.
- Use a wooden spoon, spatula, or your hand to mix the ingredients. The beauty of this bread is you don't need your fancy hand mixer or Kitchen Aid mixer. Pour the buttermilk into the flour mixture all at once. Working in circles from the center outward, use your hand to stir the mixture until the flour is evenly moistened. The dough should be on the soft side and a bit moist, but not too wet where it’s sticking to everything.
- Avoid the urge to overwork the dough otherwise the texture will be tough. If you gently knead the dough a couple times, it should be ok.
Don't Forget to Make the Cross
Irish make their soda breads with a signature X across the top. For superstitious reasons, they believe that the cross on top would let the fairies out or ward off evil and protect the household. However, there’s a more practical reason for slashing the dough. It allows heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the soda bread and allows it to stretch and expand as it rises. Make sure your X is about ½ an inch deep.
How to Know if the Bread is Done
The rye fennel and fig soda bread is cooked when the center of the X has lost the wet, shiny look of raw dough and a cake tester or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. A light thump on the bottom of the loaf should sound hollow.
There’s nothing like biting into a warm slice of bread slathered with a generous amount of butter and sea salt. I love the nuttiness of the rye flour, pocket of sweet figs, and pop of licorice flavor from the fennels. If I was baking this soda bread just for me, I might put in a whole tablespoon of fennel seeds. Once you taste this soda bread, you’ll be making it all year round and not just for St. Patrick’s Day!
Rye Fennel and Fig Soda Bread
- 1 ½ cups rye flour
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 4 ounces dried figs, chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 cups butter milk
- 2 tablespoons oats
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
- Add fennel seeds and chopped figs. Whisk to combine.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour buttermilk in the well and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until just combined.
- Turn dough onto a floured surface. Use your hands to gently shape the dough into a mound, about 7x2 inches.
- Transfer dough onto lined baking sheet.
- Use a sharp knife and score a large X about ½ inch deep. Sprinkle oats over the top.
- Place the baking sheet in the middle rack and bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Transfer the soda bread to a wire rack and let it cool for 15 minutes.
- Slice the bread and serve it warm with butter and sea salt.