Irish Brown Bread

Brown Bread In Baking Pan

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.

Slice of brown bread on a plate

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.

Ingredients lined up for brown bread

Ingredients:

 

  • 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 .)

Baking tin or pan

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.

whole wheat flour in bowl

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.

Brown bread - wheat germ etc

Add the wheat germ, wheat bran and ground flaxseed.

brown sugar

Add the brown sugar.

Buttermilk mixing

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.

melted butter and buttermilk

Add the yogurt, egg and melted butter to the buttermilk mixture.  Whisk them all together.

Buttermilk mixture for brown bread

Pour the buttermilk mixture into a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.

brown soda dough

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.

Dough in baking pan

I turn out the dough straight into the baking tin (oops, I mean pan).

Pat-a-cake

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.

4 slices of brown bread

Slice up this delicious, complex, nutty-flavored bread.  Don’t forget the butter!

Happy Baking!

Here is the recipe in printable format.

Irish Brown Bread (Whole Wheat Loaf)

Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 50 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
Meal type Bread
Misc Freezable
Region Irish

Ingredients

  • 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

Optional

  • 1 Egg white (used to brush top of unbaked loaf)
  • 1 tablespoon Dry oatmeal (used to sprinkle on top of loaf before baking)

Directions

Step 1 Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10 inch round baking pan.
Step 2 Add the whole wheat flour to a large mixing bowl.
Step 3 Sift the whole wheat pastry flour or white bread flour, together with the baking soda into the mixing bowl.
Step 4 Add the wheat germ, flaxseed, wheat bran, salt and brown sugar. Mix all of the dry ingredients well with a whisk.
Step 5 Melt the butter in a glass pitcher in the microwave (about 20 seconds on high power).
Step 6 Mix the buttermilk, yogurt, melted butter and egg together in a separate bowl or pitcher.
Step 7 Add the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well together.
Step 8 The mixture will be a little "wet". Transfer to the prepared pan. Press lightly down into the pan with floured hands or the back of a spoon.
Step 9 Score the top of the bread with a cross, marking the loaf into four quarters. Brush the top with beaten egg white and sprinkle with dry oatmeal if desired.
Step 10 Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. The bread is baked when tapped underneath and it has a hollow sound.
Step 11 Wrap in a clean dish towel and allow to cool on a wire tray.

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Comments

  1. joan schwegman says:

    Just made your brown bread and think it tastes “just like being there”. I’ve tried several recipes for Irish brown bread over the years but have never able to get the texture nor taste just right. You hit the high mark. Thanks for sharing!

    • I am so happy you liked this brown bread. It has taken many years of trial and error to come up with this balance of dry ingredients, to mimic Irish whole wheat flour. I am finally happy with my American version of Irish brown bread. My four year old little boy can’t get enough of it. Once he thinks a loaf is running low, he asks me if I plan to bake “more bread today, please.” Thanks for visiting my site and commenting. I really appreciate your kind words.

      • Nettie Scott says:

        FoodIreland.com and King Arthur Flour Company both sell Irish style coarse whole meal flour. FoodIreland sells Odlums at an extremely good price and shipping is reasonable. They also carry authentic treacle. King Arthur’s flour is more expensive, but also quite good.. I use coarse whole meal flour as a major component of pretty much all baking of cookies, scones, turnovers, crackers, biscuits, etc. One trip to explore my Irish roots and I was hooked on soda bread style cooking. I even incorporate rolled oats and cornmeal with whole meal flour for my creations. Why bother with yeast breads when these feel so much healthier?

        • Nettie – Thanks so much for letting us know where to get coarse whole meal flour inexpensively. It sounds like you are a true convert to the bread of my Irish childhood. I also like to avoid too much yeast bread, so just like you, I find soda bread is the perfect answer.
          Best wishes,
          Mairéad

  2. Hi! I was wondering… if I were to purchase Odlums Extra Coarse Stone Ground Wholemeal flour via the internet, how would I modify your recipe? Or is it not even worth it? I’d love your thoughts, and I am looking forward to recreating the delicious brown bread I recently had in Dublin!

    Many thanks!

    • Jen – You could make the bread just using the Odlums Extra Coarse Stone Ground Wholemeal flour instead of the whole wheat flour in my recipe, but be prepared for a very coarse, healthy bread. “Good for the constitution” is how it might be described in Ireland.

      Another option might be to omit the flaxseed and wheat bran and just substitute an additional cup of Odlums wholemeal flour for a total of 3 cups. If your dough is very dry just add a little extra buttermilk.

      This is my best guess solution. I have not used Odlums flour since I lived in New York where it was easy to get. Let me know how it works out, because I always debate whether the expense of ordering Odlums flour might be worthwhile.

      Happy Baking!

      Mairead

  3. I saw this and thought of you and this recipe.
    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2012/02/24/irish-buttermilk-brown-bread-whole-wheat-and-lovin-it/

    Have you seen or tried this yet, and does it taste anything like real Irish Wheat Flour?
    I really Love your blog and will be trying some of these recipes in the very near future.
    ~Anne [ an Irish girl at heart as well as by distant bloodlines]

    • Anne – Thanks so much for letting me know about this whole wheat flour by King Arthur. I didn’t know it existed, so I’ll have to give it a try. I took a look at the picture of it on their website and it did not look as coarse as the Irish kind, but pictures can be deceiving. I might order some today to check it out.

      I am so happy to hear that you enjoy my blog. It is so nice to hear positive feedback and know that I am not just rambling away to myself. Come back and visit whenever you get a spare moment. I have oodles more recipes to share, but since the weather is getting warm so early this year, I’ll soon switch gears to some lighter summer fare.

      Have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.

      Mairead

  4. Jane Rix says:

    This is a great recipe. I’ll be making this a lot in the future :)

  5. Thanks so much Mairead for this awesome recipe. I still miss the brown bread from home and I agree this is the closest I have come to tasting it here. It was a great hit at our St Patrick’s Day party.

    Monica
    Saskatoon. SK
    Canada

  6. Wow, just read your brown bread article. Powdered buttermilk, I never thought of that. And I have the same problem as you about using half the carton of regular buttermilk. I buy my Odlum’s from a website in Texas, but they may not have the Extra Coarse, and it’s expensive. I just came back from Eire with a package of it in the suitcase. I use the spring pan approach too with Pam spray. Going to try your recipe with Odlum’s Extra Coarse. Thank you!

    • David – If you use the Odlum’s Extra Coarse flour instead of American whole wheat flour you may not need all the wheat germ, flax and wheat bran that I use. They are my key ingredients to create a coarser bread when using American flour. You may want to use 2 and 1/2 cups of the Odlums, 1 cup white or whole wheat white and then 1/3 cup each of wheat germ, flax and wheat bran. You may have to do some trials to find the right balance to get a good texture. You may end up with a very wholesome, fiber-filled bread. Hope it turns out good and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      All the best!
      Mairead

  7. oh, I am so glad I found this! I ate it every day when I was on our trip! I had no idea that the flours were that different. I will definately give this a try :)

    • Debra – I hope you enjoy this bread, as much as I do. It’s pretty close to the real thing. I had to come up with this recipe, because brown bread is the one thing I really missed when I came to live in America. Hope you had a wonderful trip to Ireland.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

  8. Marilyn Thompson says:

    I cannot wait to try this recipe! I have one question…no shortening in the tin?
    Thank you so much for all of your Irish recipes for me to try.

    • Marilyn – My mother always greased the inside of the tin with a butter wrapper. I now use the flour infused oil spray called “Bakers Joy”. I find it works great to prevent the bread from sticking.
      So glad you found my site and hope you enjoy all my recipes. I have many, many more to share, so come back and visit whenever you can.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

  9. Hi!

    I will be preparing this for Thanksgiving this year. Can I make it in advance, or should I bake it the day of?

    Thanks, and happy Thanksgiving!

    • A day in advance should be fine, especially if you don’t cut it open until Thanksgiving Day. The crust is thick so the inside doesn’t get dry if it is not sliced. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.
      Mairead

  10. Hi Mairead,

    Thank you so much for the recipe! We had it on Thanksgiving (with Irish butter), and everyone said it tasted exactly like the bread we loved in Dublin! It was a hit!

    I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
    Jennifer

    • So glad you liked this brown bread, and that it got the seal of approval from your family who actually tasted the real thing in Ireland.
      We too had a lovely Thanksgiving. It was just hard for the kids to go back to school yesterday. They are really looking forward to their Christmas break.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

  11. Powdered buttermilk ! I had never even heard of this but I will have to look in the store today. I too find that i always end up throwing out part of the carton. Recently someone told me they freeze their buttermilk. I have not actually tried but I guess its a possibility. Growing up we always froze the cows milk for the calves.
    BTW I am receiving ” establishing a connection error” on a few of the pages. I’m not sure if that is my computer or the site.

    • Mairead – Powdered buttermilk is a life saver for me. I probably threw away gallons of spoiled buttermilk in the years before I discovered it. I now always have buttermilk on hand for bread and pancakes. I hope you can find it in a grocery store near you.
      Thanks for alerting me about receiving “establishing a connection error” messages. The problem is on my end with the servers getting too many queries at the same time. I’m going to need to review my hosting plan this week, especially since my site will only get busier in the weeks coming up to St. Patrick’s Day. I often wish I had a little more technical knowledge than I do, to help solve these problems. Fingers crossed I get to the bottom of it this week.
      Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and thanks for stopping by.
      Mairead

      • Mary Anne says:

        Does anyone know which stores in New Jersey carry Odlum’s Odlums Extra Coarse Stone Ground Wholemeal flour?

        • Mary Anne – It is over twenty years since I lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, so I am afraid I am not familiar with the stores that might carry Odlums flour. Hopefully, a reader might see your comment and be able to help out.
          All the best,
          Mairéad

          • Mary Anne says:

            Thanks for the reply. Hoping someone knows if I can buy it locally. I live in Union county but willing to travel aways to find some and stock up!

  12. Danielle says:

    Thank you so much for your site! My husband and i visited Dublin last year and we fell in love with the brown bread. I couldn’t find the traditional flour to use when i got back to the states but i ordered the odlums brown bread mix online and it is delicious. I was scared at first because my dough was very sticky but looks like your pictures. It never dawned on me to flatten it in the pan. Again, thanks!

    • Danielle – I am so happy to hear you enjoyed your trip to Ireland last year. Our brown bread is pretty unique, and a hearty, wholesome treat. Glad my little tricks of the kitchen trade were helpful to you in figuring out how to handle this sticky dough.
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours.
      Mairead

  13. Margaret says:

    Thank you for posting. I made the brown bread and the Irish Stew today. The family loved both! Yum! I think I will have to make them again way before St. Patrick’s Day 2014.

    • Margaret – Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know your family enjoyed their taste of Ireland today. I hope you had a lovely St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  14. Hello. Wonderful blog – just wonderful!

    What store(s) do you get your ingredients?

  15. Shana Proffitt says:

    Just wanted to thank you for your delicious Irish brown bread recipe! I love the brown bread that I’ve eaten on my many trips to Ireland and crave it constantly as there is nothing even remotely similar to it where I live in Florida. As a result, I have created my own version that is good tasting, but is too crumbly and doesn’t quite make the mark. However, I made your brown bread recipe last night, serving it with my own version of Shepherd’s Pie (I put lots of veggies in mine – leeks, shallots, parsnips, green beans, lima beans & corn), and it was absolutely perfect! It was even better, I dare say, than many of the brown breads I’ve eaten in Ireland! I’m so thrilled and can’t thank you enough! It is very easy, totally satisfying and I will be making it whenever my brown bread craving arises. I will also try your version of Shepherd’s Pie as I love Guiness and and will try several of your other recipes as well.
    Thanks again for your great site, entertaining blogs and clear and delicious recipes Mairéad!
    Shana
    p.s. I loved your blog about being asked for a drink/tea in America vs. Ireland! Also, where are you from in Ireland, if you don’t mind my asking?

    • Dear Shana – I’m thrilled to hear my brown bread recipe was a success in your house. It’s lovely to hear from readers who enjoy my recipes and ramblings.
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind words.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  16. Anne Hirshfield says:

    Mairéad, ever since I returned from our trip to Ireland this October, I have been trying to replicate the delicious wheaten bread we enjoyed at almost every meal. I’ve tried many recipes from the web but none of them came close. I was worried that, because our flours here are so different from those in Ireland, I would never be able to produce a loaf that tastes right. However, your recipe did the trick! Thanks so much. This will be a staple at our house.

    • Anne – It took me a few years to develop this recipe, with many trials and errors before I was satisfied with my Irish American brown bread. The difference in flours between Ireland and America is quite significant, but I think using wheat germ and flaxseed adds the right balance to compensate for the different flour textures. I’m so glad your family has given this bread their seal of approval.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  17. Jennifer Hurley says:

    I just googled “where to get coarse wholemeal flour in Ca” when your website popped up. I am fed up having to order Odlums flour because with shipping and tax, it is ridiculously expensive. It is also always near its expiration date. I was delighted to read your bio. and discover that we have lot is common. I came over here in 1987 and worked as a Physical Therapist at Stanford for 15 years. I trained in Trinity, class of 1986. I too came over for a year at my husbands request but he refused to return to Dublin so here I am also having lived more years here than in Ireland. When people ask what I miss most I always reply, apart from my family and friends, I miss the sound of the birds in Dublin. I look forward to trying your brown bread recipe as soon as I finish my last bag of Odlums extra coarse wholemeal flour.

    • Jennifer – Thanks so much for your comment. We definitely have a lot in common. I graduated from Trinity too, and believe it or not we probably met one another. I graduated just one year after you, in 1987. I drank many cups of tea in the break room by the library in the old School of Physio. I have such fond memories of my years in Trinity. I came to America soon after in 1988. I returned to Ireland for a year, but then returned in 1990. I planned to only stay one year and before you know it one year, changed to five, then ten, then twenty. Time just flies.
      I hope my brown bread recipe solves your flour dilemma. It took me many years to find the right balance of ingredients to create the correct texture.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  18. Mairéad,

    I have been trying for as long as I have been here (16 years!!) to replicate my mothers brown bread with American ingredients and little success. You bread looks perfect, I can’t wait to try it! Thank you!

  19. Sheila McTeague says:

    I bought the powdered buttermilk that you have. I notice you measure the powder buttermilk to the measurements that you have. Example 1 cup buttermilk you measure 1 cup powder buttermilk. That’s easy enough but on the canister of the powder it gives other directions. Example 1 cup buttermilk only needs like 4 tablespoons of powder and a bit of water. To me that doesn’t sound right. What do you suggest to do? I want to make your soda bread and don’t want to start to use til I find the right thing to do.

    • Sheila – On the package of the powdered buttermilk they recommend adding the powder to your dry ingredients and then adding the appropriate amount of water to your wet ingredients. This is to avoid lumps. Of course I break all the rules by pre-mixing the powder with the water. I whisk it a little to make sure there are no lumps. For this recipe I add 6 tablespoons of powder to a glass measuring pitcher and add water to make 1 and 3/4 cups. Give it a good whisk to remove lumps and then use it like you would use regular buttermilk. Hope this recipe turns out well for you.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  20. Jane Rix says:

    Just checking in to thank you for the brown bread recipe. I make it about every 2 weeks. I freeze it and take a piece or two to work to snack on. It smells heavenly while it’s baking.

  21. What a great recipe! My hubby is from Newry, Co Down. I’ve been trying to make a wheaten bread that gets hi approval. Your recipe is the winner!! We are in Chicago so there are several Irish grocers who sell wheaten bread. This is so much healthier and fresh! Thank you so much !!

  22. Mairead,

    Made brown bread from your recipe again, essential for Paddy’s Day. Even splashed out on some Kerrygold!! Happy St Patrick’s Day.

    Sean

  23. Delicious! I was so excited to try this bread that I sliced it right out of the oven, being too impatient to let it cool. I think 45 minutes might have been a bit too long, however, as the crust is rather thick and hard.

    • Serena – I’m so glad you liked this bread. The crust may have hardened a little too much, since you sliced it straight away, thereby releasing the steam from inside the loaf. When you wrap the freshly baked and unsliced loaf in a clean tea cloth, the rising steam from the cooling loaf helps to soften the crust.
      Thanks so much for stopping by,
      Mairéad

  24. Wonderful! My sister and I just returned from a trip “home” and I am dying to try your recipe! Donna isn’t much for bread anywhere, but I love my starch! And the brown bread at all the B&Bs we stayed at were uniformly delicious! What a treat!

    • Mary – I hope you enjoy this brown bread as much as my family does. I’m delighted you had a lovely trip to Ireland and that you enjoyed brown bread each morning for breakfast in the Irish B&B’s you stayed in.
      Thanks so much for stopping by my little corner of the world wide web.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

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