Railway cake (or spotted dog) is a traditional Irish sweet cake, or soda bread, that features raisins or other dried fruits! This delicious quick bread can be thrown together in a flash and is the perfect pairing to a hearty Irish dinner or St. Patrick's day meal!
Railway Cake Irish Bread Recipe
Railway cake (also known as 'spotted dog') is a slightly sweet Irish soda bread with fruit. Not to be confused with the English steamed pudding called 'spotted dick', though they do share some similarities.
This quick bread is different from traditional soda bread due to the raisins (or other dried fruit), but also from the addition of egg and sugar. This makes for a darker, crisper crust and a bread that has just enough sweetness to enjoy as dessert or whenever you like!
Irish railway cake (spotted dog) has been around for hundreds of years. During the 'busier' times of the year when the men of the family were working hard in the fields ( likely harvesting or threshing) the women would reward them with an extra-special soda bread featuring a bit of sugar and dried fruit. The fruit they had on hand would dictate what was in the railway cake!
It was not uncommon to enjoy this 'sweet cake' as a treat on Sundays or for special occasions, as well. The name used to describe it was highly dependent on what area of the country you were from.
You'll be shocked to see how just a few simple ingredients can turn into a fabulous railway cake. These ingredients are all staples for a frequent baker, but if you need to take a trip to the store they are all easy to find.
- 4 cups All-Purpose Flour - Sifted.
- 1 teaspoon Baking Soda - Sifted.
- 1 tablespoon Sugar - Just your run-of-the-mill granulated white sugar.
- 1 teaspoon Salt - Kosher or table salt will work just fine.
- ¾ cup Raisins - Or golden raisins, AKA 'sultanas', or dried currants.
- 1 ¼ cup Buttermilk - Plus more as needed.
- 1 large Egg - Set your egg out ahead of time so that it can come to room temperature, or set it in warm water for 5 minutes before using.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for ingredients, amounts & instructions!*
🔪 Step-By-Step Instructions
Baking is a science, so follow each direction to a T! You'll need an 8-inch round cake pan, measuring cups/spoons, a whisk, a sifter, and a knife.
- Prep. Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C) and generously grease or spray an 8-inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. *I prefer to use the 2-inch deep cake pans, with a second pan to add as a lid. This simulates the bastibles that Irish soda bread and railway cakes were baked in originally.
- Whisk dry ingredients. Get a large mixing bowl and sift 4 cups of all-purpose flour into it (or into the bowl of your stand mixer). Then, sift in 1 teaspoon of baking powder and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Whisk the dry ingredients together and form a well in the center of the bowl.
- Whisk wet ingredients. In your measuring cup whisk together 1 ¼ cup buttermilk and 1 large egg. Pour the raisins into the well in your dry ingredients, then follow it by pouring in the buttermilk mixture. Mix until just combined, do not overwork your dough!
Shape & Bake
- Shape the dough. Place the dough onto a flat, lightly floured surface and pull any pieces together, shaping into a 1½-2 inch tall round loaf. Transfer the dough to your prepared cake pan.
- Score the dough. Use a sharp knife (or a bread makers lame) cut a cross over the top of the loaf to make 4 quarters. Next, use your index finger and poke a hole into each of the quarters.
- Cover (optional). If you have a second 8-inch cake pan, use it to cover the first pan. This replicates the bastible-style cooking method originally used with this type of soda bread.
- Bake. Bake at 400°F (205°C) for 30 minutes then remove the top cake pan, if using. Then bake for an additional 15 minutes. The bread is ready when the top is golden and the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when tapped.
- Serve. Remove the loaf from your baking pan and transfer it to a wire cooling rack to cool slightly before serving.
Serve this fruity bread as a snack on St. Patrick's day, or serve it whenever you like! It has just the right level of sweetness to pair with most meals, and it's even better if you make an Irish dish like this tasty lamb stew. Enjoy!
💭 Angela's Tips & Recipe Notes
- Try more fruit! You can use a variety of different dried fruits depending on what you have on hand. Raisins, sultanas, and currants are commonly used in this recipe. However, dried cherries, cut dried apricots, chopped dates, or a combination would also be tasty!
- No cake pan, no problem. If you don't have the 8-inch cake pans, your loaf can also be baked on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Cutting the cross into the top of the bread is tradition! This was done to bless the bread. So, poking the holes into each quarter lets the steam escape while cooking, but it was also believed to let the fairies escape. Fun stuff!
- Storing: Keep your railway cake (spotted dog) in a bread box or wrapped in plastic wrap on the counter for 5-7 days. You may freeze the railway cake, if wrapped tightly, for up to 8 months. Enjoy your leftovers within the first 2 months for best flavor. Once you're ready to enjoy the bread, simply thaw it in the fridge overnight before eating.
🍽️ More Irish Recipes!
- Irish Apple Cake with Vanilla Custard Sauce
- Irish Lamb Stew
- Old Fashioned Irish Oatmeal Cake
- Irish Coffee
- Soda Bread Pudding with Bailey's Crème Anglaise
- Irish Barmbrack (Fruit Bread)
Railway Cake (aka Spotted Dog Irish Bread Recipe)
- Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C) and generously grease or spray an 8 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. *I prefer to use the 2-inch deep cake pans, with a second pan to add as a lid. This simulates the bastibles that Irish soda bread and railway cakes were baked in originally.
- Sift your all-purpose flour into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) then add the baking soda, sugar, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients together then form a well in the center of the bowl.4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt
- Whisk the buttermilk and egg together in your measuring cup. Add the raisins to the well in the middle of your dry ingredient, then pour the buttermilk and egg combo in as well. Mix until just combined. You do not want to keep working your dough!¾ cup raisins, 1 ¼ cup buttermilk, 1 large egg
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pull any pieces together, shaping it into your 1 ½-2 inch tall round loaf. Transfer the rounded dough to your baking pan or baking sheet.
- Use a sharp knife (or a bread makers lame) cut a cross over the top of the loaf to make 4 quarters. Use your index finger and poke a hole into each of the quarters.
- If you have a second 8-inch cake pan, use it to cover the first pan to replicate the bastible style cooking method originally used with this type of soda bread.
- Bake at 400°F (205°C) for 30 minutes then remove the top cake pan, if using. Continue baking an additional 15 minutes. The bread is done when the top is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped.
- Remove the loaf from your baking pan and transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool slightly before serving.
- You can use a variety of different dried fruits depending on what you have on hand. The raisins, sultanas, and currants were commonly used in this recipe, but dried cherries, cut dried apricot, chopped dates, or a combination would also be tasty!
- If you don't have the 8-inch cake pans, your loaf can also be baked on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
- Cutting the cross into the top of the bread (like an Irish soda bread loaf) was done to bless the bread. Poking the holes into each quarter lets the steam escape while cooking, but was also believed to let the fairies escape. Fun stuff!
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!