Soda Bread Recipe

Easy Homemade Fig and Fennel Soda Bread Recipe

All over the northern hemisphere, spring is quickly arriving. New green growth is shooting up from the ground, birds are returning and the days are tentatively increasing.

In my corner of the world, however, there are 10 inches of freshly fallen snow adding to the several feet that came over the winter. The only way to walk around our property is with snow shoes and many layers of clothing. It was -3 degrees F when I woke up this morning! We’re a long way from spring.

This is always a tough time of year for me. My heart is desperately yearning for spring, but the reality of ice and snow is unrelenting. My cat, who has resisted going outside for all of winter is even starting to brave the snow and ice in search of sunshine. You know it’s bad when the cat has cabin fever!

Soda Bread Recipe

I’ve tried many tricks over the years to combat spring fever. It helps to get outside and observe the small yet persistent changes happening around us. Tree buds are getting bigger and cracking open, phoebes will soon be returning to their nests and there is an unmistakable changing of the length and quality of light throughout the day.

Cooking comfort food and permeating the house with those familiar smells is another way to remember to stay present in the season. While I dream of wandering the wildflower-covered hillsides and singing “The hills are alive…,” I remind myself to continue to relish this season’s gifts.

The rich smell of freshly cooked bread can bring a sense of coziness to a home like nothing else can. To be entirely honest, I’ve long been intimidated by making my own yeast-risen breads. Instead, I’ve been making Irish soda bread for most of my adult life. This simple bread is easy, dense and delicious.

Irish Soda Bread

The Irish have been making soda bread since the 1840s when sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, was introduced. This bread is made with the simplest of ingredients: flour, baking soda and soured milk or buttermilk, which reacts with the baking soda and causes it to rise.

My friend Kat lives in Ireland and she’s been visiting us for the past several days. She shared that her good friend, who learned how to make soda bread from her mother and grandmother, uses her hands in place of measuring cups. Kat watched her make soda bread one day and saw how her experienced hands measured out the flour, threw in pinches of baking soda and how she simply eyeballed how much buttermilk to use. Kat says she’s had many different loaves of soda bread made by her friend and, while it’s never the same, it’s always delicious.

Kat also told me that she was visiting with an elder who was in his 80s and he was sharing about how in his youth soda bread was always cooked in cast iron skillets in the open hearth.

Many of us don’t have experience enough to forego measuring cups, so this soda bread recipe has specific measurements and, while it doesn’t require that you cook it in the hearth, it is nice to cook it in a cast iron pan. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, a cookie sheet also works.

…with a Twist

This soda bread recipe is a combination of cultures as it fuses my love of soda bread with a style of bread that I fell in love with in southern France.

A few years ago I was walking along the cobblestone streets of Aix-en-Provence when I came across a small artisan bakery. I was immediately captivated by their many traditional dense breads. I bought a loaf of fig fennel bread and, as soon as I bit into the aromatic and chewy crust, I knew this would be a lifetime favorite. The combination of the figs and fennel synergistically transforms into a deeper and richer flavor than they could achieve on their own.

Before we get to our soda bread recipe, let’s take a closer look at fennel.

Soda Bread Recipe

Fennel

The fennel plant is native to the Mediterranean but is naturalized across the world. It especially loves dry soils near the sea where it can grow in dense forests. The whole plant is wonderfully aromatic but we most often use the seeds in herbal medicine. The seeds are carminative, helping to move slow digestion and relieve sensations of bloating, fullness and tension. Fennel can also simply be enjoyed after meals to freshen your breath and to support healthy digestion.

Soda Bread Recipe

Fennel has a slight licorice taste that some people love and some people hate. If fennel isn’t your favorite, you could try the following soda bread recipe with a couple of teaspoons of rosemary (I’d start with either 2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried).

Fig and Fennel Soda Bread

Sweet, chewy and crumbly in that quintessential soda bread way, this soda bread recipe marries the sweetness of figs with the aromatic and carminative loveliness of fennel seeds.

For the past year my husband and I have been perfecting this soda bread recipe to suit our tastes. We’ve slowly added in more whole wheat flour and oats to give it more fiber and even more density. We’ve also added some additional flavor with the rum-soaked figs. My friend Kat was graciously willing to try this soda bread and she said that, in addition to loving the flavor of the bread, the combination of the crystalized fig sweetness with the crunchy walnuts gives this bread an array of textures to enjoy.

We hope you relish this cozy bread as much as we do. Try a slice with a cup of herbal tea, as a simple dessert, or dry out some slices to use for French toast (we like it with rose petal honey drizzled on top).

What you’ll need…

  • 3/4 cup sliced Black Mission figs (about 12 figs)
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 3/4 cup white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small egg
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Soda Bread Recipe

Place the sliced figs into a small saucepan. Add the rum and heat on low. Once the rum is warm, turn off the heat. Let this sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Soda Bread Recipe

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: white flour, whole wheat flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and fennel seeds.

Soda Bread Recipe

In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, mix together the wet ingredients: buttermilk, olive oil, and egg.

Soda Bread Recipe

Create a well in the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Soda Bread Recipe

Add the figs and walnuts and mix just until they are well dispersed through the dough.

Soda Bread Recipe

Place on a well-floured surface and shape into a small oval ball.

Soda Bread Recipe

Place on a cast iron pan. If desired, cut an X or cross into the bread.

Soda Bread Recipe

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Soda Bread Recipe

Soda bread is most delicious fresh out of the oven. It does not keep well and is best eaten within 2 to 3 days.

Optional Substitutions:

  • If you are gluten free, you can substitute a gluten-free flour blend (such as Bob’s Red Mill or Pamela’s) and gluten-free oats.
  • If you are dairy free, you can use a milk substitute + 1 tablespoon of vinegar. The vinegar will react with the baking soda in a similar way to the buttermilk.
  • In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

Now I’d love to hear from you.

Do you make your own version of Irish soda bread?

Do you ever use fennel as a remedy for digestion?

Let me know in the comments below.

Which herbs & remedies should you always stock in your kitchen?

59 comments
  1. When I click to resubscribe to an email list I previously unsubscribed from, it re-clicks that unsubscribe box when i click “save changes”. Can you assist? You’re too hard to reach via email, and I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory response there.

    • Sorry to hear you are having some tech troubles. We have a wonderful customer response team that responds promptly to all inquiries. You can reach them at support@learningherbs.com.

  2. Rosalee’s cat reminds me soooo much of my, now deceased, Tuxedo cat, Fred. He was 23 years old when he started having seizures and kidney failure. We put him to sleep to end his torment, but he was the best. cat. ever. This bread looks delicious AND healthy…cant wait to try it.

  3. Hi Rosalee,

    I’m a big fan. I found some of your recipes in a Where Women Cook magazine. Your carrot cake with coconut flour has made my husband very happy (and me too along with many friends). The golden milk gave me the “yums”.

    This bread sounds delish! What kind of gluten free flour do you use? Would coconut flour and brown rice flour would do it. Also cashew milk as a substitute for buttermilk. Any suggestions if we don’t have rum? Finally, can we use a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan instead of the cast iron?
    Curious in the kitchen,
    Ahava

    • Glad to hear you are enjoying so many recipes!

      I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour to make Irish soda bread. I’m sure many will work.

      In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

  4. Can you substitute the dark rum with something else?

    • In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

  5. Hi,

    I had the same question as Carrie about replacing the rum in this recipe. Is there a substitute?

    • In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

  6. This bread sounds great! I wonder how using milk kefir instead of but buttermilk would affect the rise of the bread. I wonder if kefir would be to acidic. I’ve found using milk kefir instead of milk, buttermilk, or yogurt in bread recipes creates a deeper, richer flavor in the bread. :-)

    • That sounds like it would be interesting to try. If you do, let me know how it turns out!

    • I haven’t made this recipe, yet(!), but we have three cooks in my family and we’ve used milk kefir and cultured yogurt (drinkable version) in various bread recipes. When the kefir and yogurt are homemade, they tend to work very well as milk and buttermilk substitutes. Store-bought versions can be too thick and can do weird things to the texture and taste, in our experiences.

  7. Can’t wait til weekend to try this bread. I love fennel I keep a mixture of fennel and ginger with me for upset tummy .I slightly crush the seeds, add ginger and boiling water a lil honey, steep. Yummy and soothing

    • This sounds like a wonderful combo for indigestion. I will try this tip! Thanks for sharing it! <3

  8. I see that there are others asking the same question, is there a substitute for rum. Thanks to the Asian DNA, mom, I lack the allele to process alcohol, it becomes a toxin.

    • I have heard it many many many times that once alcohol is heated it “cooks off”, unfortunately in my experience it does not.

      • In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

  9. i have got any figs can i use rasins, i uses cashew milk and i don,t used rum what can i use instead of RUM ?

    • In place of rum you could use any type of fruit juice or even water. It will give it a different taste, but as long as the dried figs are rehydrated it should work out just fine.

  10. Wow, this sounds fantastic! My first experience with Irish soda bread was a few years ago when my friend, who is predominantly of Irish descent, made it. To be honest, I thought the bread was too dense and a bit dry. Fast forward a year or so when I was making Irish stew in my crockpot. I decided to try making the bread myself to go with the stew. My very first attempt turned out deliciously! (And I am only 6% Irish!)

    I started using a combination of fennel seeds, cardamom seeds and cumin seeds as a tea. 1/2 tsp of each, cover with boiling water and let steep for 5 minutes. I got this recipe from The Chopra Center while I was going through my certification as an Ayurvedic Educator. Very mild and slightly sweet and good for the digestion!

    Your cat is beautiful! I just got an adorable black and white kitten for Christmas. His name is Merlin but he is not the typical black and white; he has a black splotch that covers more than half of his face, one ear completely and the other ear partially as well as most of the back of his head which comes to a point just past his neck. Then his back half is mostly black with a small white splotch in the middle of his back and a white stripe across his butt.

  11. I love your unique and herb filled recipes but I feel they fall short on the health spectrum as most of them contain gluten and dairy. Although dairy is pretty easy to replace in recipes, gluten is not, especially for breads. Do you think I could use a gluten-free flour blend? I would love to see some alternatives!

    • Rosalee , the recipe looks delicious, but i thought cooking / baking food pretty much destroys all nutriental value thereby making it essentially “dead” food. What if any nutritional value is provided by this recipe? as well as, most humans do not realize we all have parasites that we pick up from food and our environments and parasites love bread, pasta, and anything sweet. All bread does is feed parasites and turns to sugar in our bodies. I would health a healthy dose of wormwood, cloves, and black walnut hulls after eating this bread.

    • I most often make this with a gluten free flour blend. I’ve used both Bob’s Red Mill and Pamela’s. I did include optional substitutions for both the gluten flour and dairy in this recipe, but I realize there’s a lot of text and it’s easy to miss.

  12. Thanks for the rum sub suggestion. Will probably do this bread this weekend and try some as french toast too. I love your recipes, and your courses and so appreciate all you do to help others learn more about herbalism, herbs in our food for nourishment and just kind of making us all feel like we’re part of a big, neat herbal family. I love it. Your cat reminds me of our 1st cat, Bootsie. He was a sweetie and yours looks like one too. God bless.

    • Thanks for the kind words! For me and my cat. :) Very appreciated.

  13. I will be gathering the ingredients to make this bread. Do you grease the cast iron pan? Do you heat the cast iron pan when you turn the oven on or do you put the cast iron pan and bread in the oven cold to bake?

    • I do not grease the cast iron pan and I don’t preheat it. You could do either of those if you desired.

  14. I have steel-cut oats, not rolled. Is there any way to use them here? I’m wondering if pre-cooking them will work.

    • I don’t have a lot of experience with steel-cut oats so I’m not really sure. I have soaked steel-cut oats in water and a bit of yogurt before, but if you did that in this recipe you would need to change things to accommodate for that different consistency.

  15. Are the oats long-cooking rolled oats or quick-cooking rolled oats…or does it even matter in this case? Does the type affect the chewiness of the bread. Why Black Mission figs? Could chopped dates be used instead or are they not soft enough?

    • Great question! I use regular rolled oats that I buy in the bulk section of my health food store. You could do any number of dried fruit substitutions for this recipe.

  16. Love this recipe! I might try my homemade dried prunes because I have an abundance! I just got through experimenting with adding ground grapefruit pith to my stollen bread. I’ve been candying winter citrus rinds for my breads so wanted to see how pith would react in the yeast dough. It did just fine (3 cups of pith to 2 lbs of dough). It was a bit bitter but with coffee or tea it’s a small matter to have the heart healthy benefit and blood sugar regulation. :)

    • That is an interesting idea to include the pith in the bread – thanks for sharing that Dawn!

  17. Hi Rosalee, i thought cooking / baking food pretty much destroys all nutritional value thereby making it essentially “dead” food. Do you have an recommendations for making this bread with a food dehydrator instead of cooking in an oven. Also, its a bit off topic, but well known that bread feeds parasites and most humans do not even realize they have parasites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PV4rowSN_AQ

  18. At what temperature is the bread baked?

    • 350 degrees

  19. Lovely variation on a classic. My creative juices are flowing! I will try sour dough starter as a substitution for the buttermilk. It has all the acid needed to work well with the baking soda. For fruit I will use up odds and ends (date, papaya, cranberry, mulberry…) soaked in herbal tea. And I may opt to crush the fennel? 🤷‍♀️🤞Thank you for sharing!

    • I love all the great information and creative ideas in all the comments- very inspiring Ruth this inspirational recipe!
      I do admit that my simple love and delight is finding the tiny nuggets of flavor and sweetness are the dried currents in Irish Soda bread.
      However I am inspired to replace figs with dried goji berries or slice the dried jujubes from my trees…think they would be good with fennel?

    • It turned out delicious! Thank you again!

  20. Thanks, Rosalee! Going to try the recipe but with some substitutes & modifications))) Thanks for the inspiration

  21. what size is the cast iron pan??? Could it be baked on a pizza stone??? Thanks.

    • The size of the cast iron pan doesn’t matter and a pizza stone should work great too. It’ll hold it’s shape well.

  22. Yum! I used gluten free flour and water for the rum. Worked great. I was surprised, because I haven’t been even remotely interested in fennel seed before, even though it could probably help my digestion… Thanks for sharing your best stuff with us!

    • Glad you enjoyed it!

  23. Hi I do use fennel in my cooking as we in India are big on dry herbs in our food as spices. But I am looking forward to trying out this bread recipe the gluten and lactose free version. Thank you.

  24. Hi again I am allergic to oats as well. so what would I substitute it with? I will try water instead of rum. Looking forward to your reply.

    • You could omit the oats, but you’ll need to increase the amount of flour so that it turns out with the right consistency.

  25. Other substitutions….so I don’t have to run out to the store.Instead of rum could you use whiskey? I also wanted to see if there are other seeds I can substitute besides fennel for? Thank you for the recipe!

    • You could give whiskey a try. You could also use water or fruit juice. All of those will give a different taste, but should work well. Instead of fennel you could try anise, caraway, ajwain, cumin… Again all of these will taste different, but this is a forgiving recipe and it’s fun to experiment.

  26. Can this be made gluten free?

    • Yes. Please see the Optional Substitutions section of the article. It has also been discussed in the comments with specific brand names to help you out. Enjoy!

  27. What about. Vegan version? What would you substitute for the egg??

    • I believe I’ve seen vegans substitute eggs with a flax seed mixture with water. Maybe investigate other vegan bread recipes for some ideas on egg substitutes, too.

  28. I can’t kneed bread, but I love my bread machine, though I have found that for recipes with more nuts/oats I need to 1.5x-2x the flour (regular and whole wheat). So I made this recipe and here is a funny story: I was cutting the bread in thin slices on my kitchen counter and my husband came by. He tried a bite of the pice I was testing and said he didn’t like it. When I had cut 4 pieces of bread, I had to run and deal with the oven where I was cooking dinner and my husband continued to hang out at the counter. When I cam back to finish cutting the bread, all 4 pieces were gone. He so very clearly didn’t like the bread at all, nope, not at all :P

    • That’s a cute story, Veneta. Thanks for sharing!

  29. I made this bread twice this week and found it very delicious. It is indeed an easy bread to bake.
    I was glad with the suggestion of using rosemary instead of fennel as I love rosemary and don’t like fennel so much. I used fresh orange juice but I will deffinetly try it with rum too. Thank you Rosalee!

  30. I found fotos also very helpfull. I’ve got an idea how the bread shoud look like as I never baked Iris soda bread before.

  31. What is the recipe in European measurement

    • I weighted the cup ingredients while preparing the dough.

      120 g figs, 50 ml rum
      120 white flour, 100g whole wheat flour, 65 g oats
      225 ml buttermilk
      75 g walnuts
      oven: 180 grade celsius

      Dough was quiet wet, mybe the egg was too big, so I had to add at the end 50 grams extra flour.
      I hope this helps.

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