This is one of those recipes that immediately transports me back…in this case, to a cozy B&B in the boonies of Ireland.
And then discovering how easy it is to whip up this traditional Irish brown bread at home has been quite dangerous for my waistline…
Brown bread was omnipresent everywhere I went in Ireland, even more so than scones (and honestly I rarely saw soda bread). My bowls of fish chowder or plates of cottage pie came with it, and my hotel or B&B breakfasts often included it.
I am completely in love with its moist, dense, crumbly texture and slightly sweet, nutty taste. It tastes healthy (and is!), but in all the best ways. And piled high with Kerrygold and homemade jam, there’s nothing better!
What’s the difference between Irish brown bread and soda bread?
Both are iconic Irish recipes, but they’re quite different. Soda bread usually uses white flour, or occasionally some whole wheat added in. Irish brown bread, on the other hand, is mostly composed of coarsely-ground whole wheat flour plus wheat bran and wheat germ. It occasionally has other things added like flaxseed, oats, or seeds.
All those whole grains in the brown bread give it a deep, nutty flavor, and its super tender and moist, denser texture. Soda bread is often slightly sweet and has more of a scone-like texture. Not that you care, but I’m definitely more partial to the Irish brown bread.
Save for later: What Bread You Should Make Based On How Long You Have…
It’s super easy to make as well. The main thing that’s tricky is getting the right kind of wheat flour. Irish wholemeal flour is extremely coarsely-ground, and we don’t have an equivalent here. I got my sister to grind some for me (though it still wasn’t as coarse as I’d have liked), but you can also easily buy Irish flour online.
This particular recipe comes from Jimmy Bruic, one of my B&B hosts on my last trip to Ireland. It’s simple and easy, and the only main tweaks I had were to add more salt, and then mine definitely needed more than the 40 minutes in the recipe.
Preheat oven to 370 F (180 C).
Combine your dry ingredients in a bowl. Then stir in the wet ingredients, mixing well into a soft dough (more of a thick batter, really).
Transfer your batter to a large loaf tin (non-stick, or if it’s not then grease it). Make sure to level out the top of the batter so it bakes evenly.
Bake for at least 40 minutes…that’s what the recipe says, but I found it needed 60-85 minutes depending on the day and ingredients used. Maybe my loaf tin is a bit smaller than what Jimmy uses?
The bread is cooked if it sounds hollow when the loaf is tapped on the bottom, and a thermometer inserted reads around 200 F. When you think it’s done, give it 5 more minutes.
Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack. Try not to cut into it until it’s down to around 80 F inside (if you can wait!).
With minimal effort, you’re rewarded with tender, soft, moist bread that smells SO good! And the fact that it’s packed with whole grains is just an added bonus.
For me, this is perfect with some good Irish butter and a cherry or raspberry jam—don’t be stingy. Honestly it’s good without anything at all. But if you want to use honey instead, or go the savory route and pile it high with meat and cheese, I won’t complain.
I had to sit down with my very first piece and a cup of tea in the gorgeous hand-thrown ceramic mug that I bought in tiny Ardmore, on the south coast of Ireland. A perfect antidote to missing the Emerald Isle!
This bread will dry out fast, so if you’re not eating all of it right away I’d recommend storing it in an airtight container, and it should keep for 3-4 days.
Other non-yeast breads you’ll love:
- Small-Batch Traditional Wholemeal Irish Soda Bread
- Garlic Cheddar Beer Bread
- Caramelized Onion, Feta, & Spinach Quick Bread
- Brown Oatmeal Soda Bread
- Flaky, Buttery No-Yeast Flatbreads
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- 1 cup of coarse whole wheat flour; see notes
- 2 cups of white flour (sometimes I use part whole wheat here)
- 1 cup of wheat bran
- 1 dessert spoon of wheat germ or ground flaxseeds
- 1 3/4 teaspoons of baking soda
- 1 ounce of butter or 4 tablespoons of oil (I recommend oil for a more moist bread)
- A heavy pinch of kosher salt (like 1/2 teaspoon)
- 3 cups of buttermilk or sour milk
- Preheat oven to 370 F (180 C).
- Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Stir in the wet ingredients, mixing well into a soft dough (really more of a thick batter).
- Transfer your batter to a large loaf tin (non-stick, or if it's not then grease it). Make sure to level out the top of the batter so it bakes evenly.
- Bake for at least 40 minutes…that’s what the recipe says, but I found it needed 60-85 minutes depending on the day and ingredients used. Maybe my loaf tin is a bit smaller than what Jimmy uses.
- The bread is cooked if it sounds hollow when the loaf is tapped on the bottom, and a thermometer inserted reads around 200 F. When you think it’s done, give it 5 more minutes.
- Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack. Try not to cut into it until it’s down to around 80 F inside (if you can wait!).
- Irish wholemeal flour is much coarser (more coarsely-ground) than our whole wheat flour in America. I strongly recommend finding Irish wholemeal flour (see link below), or grinding your own on the coarsest setting (what I did). Odlum's has both a coarse and extra-coarse, both work fine.
- On my second loaf I upped the amount of whole wheat flour a bit and decreased teh white flour, and it was just as good (and healthier).
- I didn't have both wheat bran and wheat germ. I subbed ground flaxseeds in one case, and it worked just fine.
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