How to Bake Irish Brown Bread

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Our traditional Irish brown bread recipe is easy to bake at home. Serve warm, with a pat of Kerrygold butter.

During our visit to Ireland, my family and I fell in love with Irish brown bread: a simple, rustic loaf with a crunchy crust, soft interior and rich wheat flavor. We missed it so much after leaving that I made my own Irish brown bread recipe so we can continue to enjoy it at home! It’s easy to make and once you taste it you’ll be hooked, too.

You can serve brown bread with traditional Irish recipes or a full Irish breakfast.

What Is Irish Brown Bread?

While many Americans know about Irish soda bread, made with all-purpose flour, raisins and/or caraway seeds, Irish brown bread (also called brown soda bread) is a true Irish staple that’s on menus and tables in Ireland every day. When I was there with my family, we had Irish brown bread several times a day, as an appetizer, with afternoon tea and alongside soups and hearty stews. It was also offered every morning at our B&B, along with other traditional Irish food like black and white puddings, barmbrack and scones.

In Ireland, this bread is made with Irish wholemeal flour, which is more coarse than typical whole wheat flour. With large, visible flecks of bran, wholemeal flour gives brown bread its characteristic hearty flavor and texture. If you can’t find Irish wholemeal flour locally, it can be ordered online from sellers like Odlums and King Arthur Baking Company. This recipe uses stone-ground wheat flour, which is easier to find in the U.S. from producers like Bob’s Red Mill.

Another traditional ingredient is buttermilk, which gives the bread great flavor and also works with baking soda and baking powder to make the bread rise. And although I’ve been told by Irish readers that real brown bread is never made with sugar (and that Americans eat too much of it!) I do like a touch of sugar in my recipe because I love how it enhances the wheat flavor.

How to Make Traditional Irish Brown Bread

Adapted from my Irish brown bread recipe at Hungry Enough To Eat Six, this makes one loaf that serves 10-12 people. The dough comes together fast, and you’ll want to get it right in the oven after it’s mixed and shaped.

Ingredients

Irish Brown Bread ingredientsNancy Mock for Taste of Home

  • 2-1/2 cups stone-ground wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk plus a little extra

Directions

Step 1: Mix dry ingredients

Irish Brown Bread dry mix ingredientsNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Blend together the stone-ground wheat flour, all-purpose flour, wheat germ, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Step 2: Add buttermilk

Irish Brown Bread with buttermilkNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Add buttermilk to the bowl and stir it in to make a sticky dough—if the dough is very dry and crumbly, add another tablespoon or so of buttermilk.

Step 3: Shape and slash the dough

Irish Brown Bread doughNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Turn the bread dough onto a lightly floured cutting board. Squeeze and fold the dough just a few times to bring it together. Don’t overmix. Shape it into a round, then place it on the lined baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross in the top of the dough, then to poke a small hole in each corner of the bread (to let the fairies out).

Step 4: Bake

Irish Brown BreadNancy Mock for Taste of Home

Put the dough in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes—then reduce the heat to 375° and bake the bread for 40 minutes longer. Remove the bread to a cooling rack, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Serve slices of Irish brown bread warm, at room temperature or toasted.

How to Store Irish Brown Bread

Irish brown bread tastes the very best the day it’s baked, but if wrapped tightly it will stay good for up to three days. You can also freeze the bread; wrap it very well and seal tightly in a freezer bag to protect the flavor and texture. Store it in the freezer for up to three months, and let it thaw in the wrappings in the fridge.

Irish Brown Bread Tips

Irish Brown Bread with butterNancy Mock for Taste of Home

How can you tell when Irish brown bread is done baking?

A finished loaf of this Irish bread will be dark brown with a firm crust and will have a hollow sound when you knock on the bottom. A digital thermometer inserted in the middle should read 200-205°.

What can you use if you don’t have buttermilk?

It’s easy to make a substitute for buttermilk. Just measure out 1-1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar, then add enough regular milk to make 1-1/2 cups. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes before using it in the recipe.

What else can you put in Irish brown bread?

While soda bread often has raisins or caraway seeds, brown bread is more often made without mix-ins. However, there are some tasty additions that you can try adding to your bread, like 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or poppy seeds. Chopped walnuts would also be delicious in this bread. Some bakers like to add a couple of tablespoons of wheat or oat bran for extra flavor and nutrition.

What can you serve with Irish brown bread?

This bread has such great flavor, it’s best with just a light spread of butter or tangy marmalade. It’s so versatile that it can accompany every meal: toasted for breakfast, dipped into soups, or alongside savory roasted meats and veggies. I also recommend having a buttered slice with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

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Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.