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.
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Wholewheat Irish Soda Bread
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.
Baking Irish Brown Bread in America
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.
Here’s a quick video tutorial to watch to show how easy it is to make this bread…
Ingredients for Irish Brown Bread
Here you’ll find a quick list of what you’ll need for this recipe. Check out the printable recipe at the bottom of this post for US and Metric equivalent versions of the recipe. There you can choose the measurement system that works best for you.
- whole wheat flour
- whole wheat pastry flour (white cake flour may be substituted for a slightly less dense bread)
- wheat germ
- ground flax seed
- wheat bran
- baking soda
- brown sugar (honey can be substituted.)
- Greek yogurt
- egg white (optional – to brush top of loaf)
- 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 .)
Directions for Baking Irish Brown Bread from Scratch
Here are my step-by-step photo instructions for baking this delicious Irish bread.
Choose a Baking Pan or Tray
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.
Traditionally this bread was cooked in a bastible over the open fire. Other Irish cooks bake it from a round mound of dough on a flat baking tray, and allow the bread develop its own shape as it bakes.
Since this recipe is made using American ingredients, the dough I create is a little wetter than I would make using Irish ingredients. This is to ensure a nice, moist loaf. I recommend baking the bread in a baking tin, since the dough is to wet for free form baking.
Make the Yeast Free Dough
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.
Oven Baking Brown Bread
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.
Mark the top of the bread with a cross. This will help to create cutting lines for dividing the loaf into quarters or farls, once the bread is baked.
Old Irish traditions give many reasons for this step. My granny would tell us it was to let the fairies out. Others say it is to mark it with the sign of the cross.
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 from 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!
Recipe Card for Irish Brown Bread
Here is the recipe in printable format.
Irish Brown Bread
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour white cake flour may be substituted for a slightly less dense bread
- ½ cup wheat germ
- ½ cup ground flax seed
- ½ 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.
- 1¾ cups buttermilk
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium egg
- 1 medium egg white used to brush top of unbaked loaf
- 1 tablespoon oatmeal used to sprinkle on top of loaf before baking
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10 inch round baking pan.
- Add the whole wheat flour to a large mixing bowl. Sift the whole wheat pastry flour or white bread flour, together with the baking soda into the mixing bowl.
- Add the wheat germ, flaxseed, wheat bran, salt and brown sugar. Mix all of the dry ingredients well with a whisk.
- Melt the butter in a glass pitcher in the microwave (about 20 seconds on high power). Mix the buttermilk, yogurt, melted butter and egg together in a separate bowl or pitcher.
- Add the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well together.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bake for 45 to 55 minutes. The bread is baked when tapped underneath and it has a hollow sound.
- Wrap in a clean dish towel and allow to cool on a wire tray.
Nutrition Information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.
Now you may prefer to use a pre-mixed baking mix for brown bread which is available online in the United States from Food Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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