Irish brown bread is a wheaten soda bread made with whole wheat flour. Unlike Boston brown bread which is steamed in a can, Irish brown bread was cooked in an iron bastible over an open fire in years gone by.
Any tourist planning a trip to Ireland definitely needs to know about “brown bread.” The choice of bread in Irish restaurants is usually “white” or “brown”. Seldom is the term “whole wheat” used.
Traditionally, brown bread refers to a dense, hearty, and nutty-tasting, whole wheat version of Irish soda bread.
Anyway you slice it, brown bread is perfect for slathering with butter, and marmalade or jam. It is the perfect partner for a hearty stew, a rustic soup, and a good Irish Breakfast, which we will explore on another day.
It is used to make sandwiches in Ireland, even if they are the strangest boat shaped sandwiches ever seen. If you prefer a more traditional sandwich with a sliced wheat bread, you will need to ask for a sandwich made from “brown sliced pan.”
This is the bread of my childhood. I grew up on the stuff. Back in the 60’s and 70’s we didn’t realize what a healthy bread we were eating. We didn’t care. All I knew was that I loved this bread, and still do to this very day.
Replicating the brown bread of my childhood, posed a challenge for me in America. One option available, is to order pre-packaged, brown bread, baking mixes by mail, but this is a really, expensive solution.
I discovered once again, the greatest challenge faced by the Irish cook in America, is the flour. Odlums Extra Coarse Stone Ground Wholemeal flour is the Irish choice. If you are lucky to live in New York or New Jersey some supermarkets stock it. If, like me, you live in Kentucky, there aren’t too many customers looking for authentic Irish flour.
American whole wheat flour is ground far finer, than its Irish counterpart. It does not produce a distinctive, large-crumb, brown bread.
My solution is to mimic the coarse grind of Irish flour by adding wheat germ, wheat bran and milled flaxseed. My mother, and grand-mothers before her, may rightly say my bread is not an authentic, traditional version, but the end product is good enough for me. My ancestors definitely never heard of “greek yogurt”.
So, let me share my recipe with you. If you are planning a trip to Ireland, it is not obligatory that you actually bake a loaf. Reading this post, and familiarizing yourself with the concept of brown bread is well advised, however.
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (white cake flour may be substituted for a slightly less dense bread)
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 1/2 cup ground flax seed
- 1/2 cup wheat bran
- 3 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 teaspoons brown sugar (add a few more teaspoons if you like a sweeter bread – honey can be substituted.)
- 1 and 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons butter (1/4 stick)
- 1 egg
- 1 egg white (optional – to brush top of loaf)
- 1 tablespoon dry oatmeal (optional – used to sprinkle top of loaf before baking)
Note: This version of brown bread is very dense and fiber rich. If you prefer a lighter version, substitute white cake flour for some of the whole wheat flour. (For a much lighter brown bread use 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of cake flour, instead of 2 cups of whole wheat and 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour .)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease a 10-inch round baking pan. (Thinking of Irish brown bread caused my brain to revert to Irish terms. I had to ask myself over and over again: “What is a baking tin in America?” I finally remembered the word pan.)
Note: You can use a 9-inch round or an 8-inch round pan if you prefer a thicker sliced bread. The baking time has to be increased to allow the loaf to cook through. I prefer a flatter loaf, since I find it easier to ensure it is fully baked without a hard, burnt crust.
Add the whole wheat flour to a large mixing bowl.
Sift the whole wheat pastry flour and baking soda into the bowl. Add the salt.
Add the wheat germ, wheat bran and ground flaxseed.
Add the brown sugar and mix well together.
Measure the buttermilk. I buy powdered buttermilk and mix the amount I need whenever I bake. I find when I buy buttermilk, I usually only use half the carton and end up throwing the rest out.
Add the yogurt, egg and melted butter to the buttermilk mixture. Whisk them all together.
Pour the buttermilk mixture into a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.
Mix together until the flour is uniformly wet. This is a fairly “wet” dough. Most brown, soda bread recipes form a drier dough, that is kneaded gently until the dough forms a smooth ball. This mixture is a little too wet for kneading.
I turn out the dough straight into the baking tin (oops, I mean pan).
Now it is time to “pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake”. Pat the dough down into the pan using floured hands or the back of a large floured spoon. I over floured my hands, so the top of my loaf has a rustic, floury look.
Score the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.
Sprinkle the top of the loaf with dry oatmeal if desired. I over-floured my hands for the “pat-a-cake” step, so the oats did not stick too well. To help them stick, you can brush the top of the loaf with a beaten egg white, before sprinkling with oats.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes. The bread is baked when it is tapped underneath and has a hollow sound.
When the bread is cooked, remove it from the tin and swaddle it in a clean dish towel or two. This helps trap the steam from the cooling bread, and prevents the crust getting too hard. Cool the loaf on a wire tray.
Once cooled, the bread is ready to slice and enjoy. I love this bread fresh from the oven with lots of melting butter slathered on it.
The texture is just like the brown bread of my childhood.
Slice up this delicious, complex, nutty-flavored bread. Don’t forget the butter!
Here is the recipe in printable format.
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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