I’ve made quite a few loaves of gluten-free Irish soda bread over the years. It’s only now, when baking with gluten-free flours is less new discovery and more muscle memory, that I realize how simple it is. This is peasant bread, the kind of food women would make right before dinner, throwing together handfuls of flour, soda, salt, and soured milk, mixing together the dough by feel. Put it in a cast-iron pan and let it bake while you’re making the rest of the meal and there’s something crunchy, ready for good butter, to fill the family.
You don’t need xanthan gum or psyllium husk or anything unusual to make this bread. We use our gluten-free all-purpose flour here, but you might find a combination of flours that work better for your family. (If you use a different flour blend, you might need more or less buttermilk. Pay attention to the dough, not the amount.) Other than that, it’s salt, soda, and buttermilk. Easy peasy.
According to this fervent website, traditional Irish soda bread does not contain any of the fancy fillings that Americans have added to it. No caraway or candied fruit, whiskey, and certainly no chocolate. And no currants. Add raisins or currants and you’ve made something called spotted dog. This recipe for spotted dog also uses an egg and a touch of sugar. Okay. I’m an American, only partly of Irish descent. I like the tiny sweetness the currants lend to this bread. Leave them out and it’s still a mighty decent quick bread for a cold night.
Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 425°. Put a small cast-iron skillet in the oven to heat with the oven.
Make the dough. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add the currants and stir. Pour in the buttermilk. Here’s where you pay attention. Stir together the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. It will seem too dry at first. Keep stirring. Stir together the dough until it is all wet crumbles with no patches of dry flour. It won’t come together as a solid dough at this point. Pinch a bit between your fingers. Does it cohere as dough? You’re good. (If not, add a bit more buttermilk.)
Put the dough onto the counter. Gently, knead the dough with the heel of your hands and push it around until it’s a more supple dough. Form it into a ball. Make an assertive slash across the ball of dough one way, then the other way, to make a cross.
Bake the dough. Open the oven, pull out the oven rack, and put the ball of dough into the hot skillet. Cover the cast-iron skillet with another skillet, big enough to not press down on the dough. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and bake until the top of the bread is browned and crusty. When you lift the bread and tap the bottom of it with your knuckles, the bread should have a hollow thump.
Allow the bread to cool to close to room temperature before breaking off a piece and topping with a hunk of good butter.