Donegal Irish Soda Bread

Old McFadden’s Donegal Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Donegal Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Donegal Soda Bread is inexpensive and easily made, with only a few readily available ingredients required. It’s quick to make, because it doesn’t use yeast and doesn’t require rising time. This recipe is from the venerated Old Jimmy McFadden, a baker friend of the family and a grand old man who ran a Bakery shop in Inishowen, near the wild Atlantic coast, a long, long time ago. Old McFadden’s cherished recipe has been handed down by bakers in the family through the years, and produces a dense, moist golden brown bread.

Baking Time

50 minutes


500g plain wholemeal flour
100g rolled porridge oats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
25g butter, cut into pieces
500ml buttermilk

Baking Method

Step One

Preheat your oven to 200C/gas mark 6/fan 180C and dust a baking tray with flour. Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together, then rub in the butter making sure that no large pieces of butter are left visible. Make a well in the centre. Stir the honey into the buttermilk until well mixed, then pour this into the well. Then quickly stir the mixture together using your hands until you have a soft, sticky dough.

Step Two

Tip the dough out of the bowl onto your dusted baking tray. Then shape it into a neat, round loaf about 7-8 inches in diameter. Cut a cross in the centre of the dough with a sharp knife (in traditional Irish baking fairylore, this lets the fairies fly out of the loaf, but it also helps the bread to bake.)

Bake for 40 minutes, then turn the bread upside down and continue baking for 10 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped underneath and the crust has a golden brown lustre.

Step Three

When ready, transfer to a wire rack. If you like the crust nice and soft, cover with a clean tea towel. Soda bread is best eaten while still warm. While the bread is still warm break the loaf into quarters and spread each quarter with butter or with a dollop of strawberry or blackcurrant jam. If you have any leftovers the next day, it makes great golden brown toast with a knob of salty butter.

Storing Old McFadden’s Donegal Irish Soda Bread

If you still have leftovers or don’t have time to eat the loaf straight from the oven, it keeps well at room temperature, wrapped in plastic clingfilm, for 2 to 3 days. The whole loaf or quarters of it can also be stored in the freezer when it’s completely cool. Just wrap it in plastic clingfilm, place in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw completely before unwrapping and eating.

Old McFadden’s Vital Donegal Soda Bread Ingredients – Buttermilk and Honey are the Secret

Old McFadden’s Donegal Irish soda bread requires only a few ingredients, including the vital buttermilk and honey. These vital ingredients are missing from other more bland and basic soda bread recipes, and it is the Buttermilk and honey blending together that gives the recipe its distinctive, wonderful flavour!

The Inishowen Peninsula – Home of Old McFadden’s Donegal Soda Bread

Wild and wind-swept in the Winter months, time here, when the cold winds of December blow, is best spent hunkering down before a turf fire with the kettle on the stove and Irish soda bread in the oven. There is a stillness and magic here in Winter, and tales are often told before the burning peat fire of fairylore and the magical days of yore.

Tales of ghosts, faeries, hauntings and the legends of Donegal often told after a drop of the black stuff go long into the night, and even some tales about the legendary soda bread masters and their secrets are told.

The Secrets of a Master Soda Bread Baker

No two soda breads are the same, and it has always been a mystery to me how some seemly competent bakers, including TV chefs, produce bread that can only be described as stodge fit for hogs. The best soda bread, it seems, can only be made by people born with the gift of baking.

Soda bread master J.T. McFadden never used a recipe and would never measure any ingredients. In fact, he held a healthy disdain for recipe-guided bakers. The only utensil he ever used was an ornate knife used to bless the loaf. Once, maybe after a few stouts, he claimed the knife was forged under a mountain by the Fairy King of Ulster’s bladesmith.

McFadden’s baking technique was legendary, he dumped wholemeal flour on the kitchen table and threw in all the ingredients at lightning speed. He’d say, “Don’t try to copy this you’ll only make an unholy hash of it.” One day, I measured up the ingredients, by scrutinising his bread baking, and baked soda bread. The bread was dense and tough and ended up being thrown to the hogs. To this day, I’m still trying to the learn the secrets of the soda bread masters.