Irish Brown Bread

06 Apr 2012

As I write this, the bread that you see in the above photo is quietly baking away in the oven. It is my brown bread candidate number ….emmm, I’ve lost track.  You see, it is not my first attempt at baking the perfect loaf of brown bread. In fact, it is one of many—today, and in a few more minutes, it will hopefully prove to be my final and triumphant crack at tackling the mystery of spectacular brown bread. This time, I pulled out all the stops. Yes, this loaf is running for the “President of the Brown Bread” here at our house. I’ve compiled recipes from Irish cookery books, bakers, relatives, even the back of a bag of Odlums flour. I’ve put on my imaginary lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses, evaluated my successes and failures and created a strategy. This attempt, I used a combination of farm honey, egg, buttermilk with three flours and baking soda. I also sprinkled the heck out of it with some magic fairy dust just for good measure.

There is a reason for all this madness. I have received no less than forty email requests for the “best brown bread recipe” that I’ve lost count, and it was time for me to do a little research and finally bake up a proper loaf for myself.

Irish brown wheaten bread {aka brown soda bread}, the one that is always served alongside those gorgeous velvety vegetable-based soups at pubs and cafes around the country is, as far as I can see, one of, if not thee most, cherished taste memories that tourists acquire when visiting Ireland. That unique nutty flavor with a crumbly, yet moist texture that plane loads of people long for after they’ve returned to their cosy homes abroad. I would very much like to create that same taste memory for our guests when they stay with us as well.

Don’t get me wrong; I have taken my share of homemade brown bread out of the oven when we have visitors. But, it’s no secret that somehow the morning slice served in our kitchen will not compare to what will be gobbled up later in the day when we are having lunch virtually anywhere else in the country. I must add that I am not afraid of bread making, in fact, I very much enjoy it. Over the last two years I have tried my skills at many styles of bread, and to my delight, have had mostly successes. Still, the perfect loaf of brown soda bread has eluded me.

Of course, I too, have a particular taste memory in mind when it comes to how this perfect bread should be. It can vary from establishment to establishment: some serve it more crumbly and dry, some moist, some adorned with oat flakes, some pale in colour and others more a deep rich brown, some seem grainy, some more firm, but my favourite is more cake-y with a slightly sweet aftertaste which I love. {I won’t drop any names, but that special flavour may or may not have been experienced in County Waterford}

In my attempts this week, I have tested several recipes. All of which are simple and all of which include bread soda, yet have quite a few variations. I have tried stone ground wholemeal flour, coarse ground wholemeal flour, a mix of stoneground wholemeal flour and cream flour, and plain whole meal flour. I’ve added bran. I’ve added wheatgerm. I have used fresh buttermilk and cultured buttermilk. I’ve included and not included black treacle, golden syrup and honey. I’ve sprinkled and not sprinkled.  Egged and not egged.

Only one version has hit the nail right on the head…and, it wasn’t that beautiful hopeful at the top of the page.

Finally….allow me to introduce: The President of Brown Bread in our kitchen.

This is not “my” recipe, it is “a” recipe for Irish Brown Bread using a combination of ingredients that are typical to traditional soda bread recipes, and for me, it has that perfect brown bread flavor and texture. This recipe is based on fan-assisted oven temperature. Please adjust temp/time for your oven. 

I am silly shocked and proud as punch that this blog has just been nominated for Saveur Magazine’s Best Regional Cuisine Food Blog of 2012. There is so much to celebrate in traditional Irish food, and as you can probably tell, it makes me very happy to share. Yipppppppeeeeeeee! Here is a link to more information and also where you can vote. The winners will be announced on May 3rd. There are bags of amazing blogs to peruse, so take your time and your appetite and have a good peek. Thank you so much for all of your support and readership! xoxox

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012


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83 Responses to “Irish Brown Bread”

  1. Kim Miller says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m featuring this lovely bit of Ireland in our monthly newsletter – The Monthly Musing – for St. Patrick’s Day! I cannot wait to try this out myself!

  2. Barbara Quinlan says:

    Hi Imen
    Well done to you on your perseverence in your search for a good loaf. I have gone in the opposite direction to you. I used to live in Portmarnock, Co.Dublin and although I love to bake I rarely made bread especially brown as it is easy to buy decent brown bread in the local shops. I now live in Scituate MA and the story is totally different. I have found the food the biggest adjustment (after missing family and friends of course). It is amazing how you can attempt the same dishes as you make at home and the result is so different. I am sure as a farmer you see the difference in the agricultural produce be it meat or dairy in Ireland. Anyway I just made your bread today. My flour was wholewheat and I reckoned it might not be course enough so I made two loaves, one as per your exact recipe and it is wonderful the best I have made here yet and the other yet to be sampled had 1 oz less wholewheat flour and 1 oz bran so we will see which goes down best.
    Thank you for posting it. I look forward to following your blog.

  3. […] reproduce this on demand,I am commencing official experimentation. Herewith, recipe #1, courtesy of married an irish farmer. Simple, non rising quick bread of all purpose and stoneground wheat flour, baking soda, […]

  4. Lucy says:

    Just made this – it’s cooling on the rack. Smalls so good. Beautiful shape and colour

  5. […] soda bread as most soda breads I have seen recipes for do not contain butter. It is adapted from this recipe from Imen McDonnell. Check out her blog, it is really beautiful with stunning photography. When I […]

  6. […] monster encountered on my brown bread odyssey. (As an aside next stop on the voyage of discovery is Imen McDonnell’s recipe currently residing on one of my many Pinterest […]

  7. garrett says:

    This break turned out perfect! absolutely just like the bread I had this past August in Northern Ireland.

    If people’s bread did not turn out it has to be for one or a combination of 3 reasons: you simply did not measure correctly, you used the wrong ingredients, or your oven is not properly calibrated. Make sure you measure ingredients by weight and NOT volume and ensure your oven temperature is accurate! Get an oven thermometer and test oven to see how far off it is so you can adjust the temperature you set so you get the actual temperature you desire when you bake. Every oven is off and some by as much as 50 degrees! 25 degree swings are not uncommon and that will ruin a baked item.

    The dough was like slightly looser cookie dough and it has to be spooned/scooped out of the bowl into the tins – it does not “pour” like cake batter. I will add a tad bit of brown sugar to the mix next time to add a bit of sweetness and I added oats and sugar to the top right before baking. It is just delicious!!!!

  8. Kathy says:

    I just made your Irish Brown Bread tonight, and we loved it! Thank you so much for the recipe. We visited Ireland in May and had fantastic brown bread and scones, so I am so happy to be able to make the brown bread now! Thank you so much!
    We ate half the loaf tonight–do you store the rest in a plastic bag for eating the next day? or just in a tea towel? I’m sure we’ll eat the rest tomorrow! Thanks!

  9. Eddie D says:

    Loving this recipe. I have added sunflower seeds to give an interesting twist on the nutty flavour (and an interesting green colour in the cooked seeds). Like many others, I am finding the mix very wet and the end product too moist. Playing around with temperatures, times and fan/no fan to perfect! The ingredients I will not change – the taste is too good!

  10. Lou Brennan says:

    Just love this recipe and like many of the other people who’ve posted comments I’ve tried many other recipes and this is by far my favourite . Have forwarded it to family members in UK and France.

    Well Done


  11. Breda says:

    I have been baking this recipe for the past few weeks and it is incredible! I have tried both the coarse wholemeal and ordinary and the ordinary works but is a little doughy. I have a fan assisted oven and bake it for 55 mins at 180. Thank you so much for this recipe, it is delicious, best ever. I bake it for my parents as well and they love it.

  12. Terri M says:

    I made this and my dough was very wet and could not form a ball. I am wondering if the amounts are correct, It should have more flour I am guessing. It could pour like a cake batter, so thin. Where did I go wrong?

    • imen says:

      The dough is very thin. Not watery, but thick cake batter indeed. Others are having great success with this recipe…which measurements are you using? Are you located in the USA? I want to help desperately because this is bread is so good! Imen x

    • imen says:

      Did you use both flour amounts Terri?

  13. Blue Kelly says:

    Since spending time in Eire I have looked for the same moist brown bread that I fell in love with. i am not a fantastic cook but am going to try this recipe because I really want to taste that wonderfull bread again. thank you so much.

  14. Richard says:

    Hi, made this as per recipe and it dimdnt cook properly, still too moist inside. Is the solution , hotter oven, longer at same temperature or less liquid?
    I know mine was fairly wet and couldn’t have been formed into a round as suggested in the instructions. It had to go into a loaf tin.


    • imen says:

      I would say leave it in longer…..until a knife in the middle comes out clean. Have had such great success with this recipe, but all ovens are different. Hopefully that will solve it! Thanks for reading. Imen x

  15. Grace says:

    I am intrigued by the addition of an egg, I have never seen that in a brown bread recipe before. What does that do for the consistency?

  16. kim says:

    So sorry to sound clueless, but is this able to be used in the brown bread and whiskey ice cream recipe? You said not soda bread? I am american and uncertain which can be used. Thank you so much. Your site is lovely

  17. Titania says:

    Hi Imen,
    Great recipe and the pictures make it look so delicious. Just wondering how many bread slices do you get with this? I ask because am trying to bake it for 50 people and need to know how many a loaf will feed. Thank you!

  18. Stacey Miller says:

    Hi grew up on homemade brown bread by my mother and granny. They both have very different styles and amazing bread but this one has now become mine. My granny long gone but my mum is very impressed as has said i now have given her a run for her money as she is known for her bread by family and neighbours so thank you very much for your lovely receipe so simple once you follow it. x

  19. Grellan says:

    To Anne and CC Coll I’d suggest leaving the bread in the over for longer. I baked a similar receipe recently and while the baking temperature was a lower 180C the baking time was an hour in the tin and 15 minutes upsidedown outside the tin. I still left it in the over longer until I got a hollow sound when tapping the bottom of the loaf. I also stuck a skewer into the loaf and if it came out sticky i’d leave it in the oven, as you would do when baking a fruit cake. I have 2 of your loaves in the oven at the moment – fingers crossed.

  20. Paul says:

    My girlfriend and I recently moved to America and can’t for the life of us get used to the cake like mixtures they try to pass off as bread over here. Sugar should not be used to make bread!!

    Anyway, this bread has saved our lives. Just made it this morning and followed the recipe exactly. I couldn’t find coarse wholemeal flour so just used regular wholewheat flour. It worked great and is very close to Superquinn brown bread. Thank you!

    • Brigid says:

      Ditto here, Paul! My husband and I have nearly given up our search for non-cakey bread after arriving in America one year ago. I was hoping that this recipe would result in a close approximation of the divine Avoca brown bread and indeed, it comes close. I’m going to try adding in wheat germ and/or oat/wheat bran to give it that coarser, more knobbly texture and a few different seeds for good measure. Otherwise, a yummy yummy recipe, Imen. Thank you and your site is just lovely.

  21. Anne says:

    Hi Imen,
    Thanks for your recipe. I’ve made your brown bread twice and both times the bread was not completely baked afterwards. I wonder what I do wrong. I use the following measures: gram, ml, celsius. I used 275 gram wholemealflour, 175 g sieved plain flour,5 gram sieved baking soda, 5.5 gram salt and 400 ml buttermilk, 25 g butter, 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon honey. The dough was very thin, one time I added more flour, which didn’t solve the problem. I baked the bread in an hot air oven: 45 minutes at 200°C (oventhermometer). The result was not good: the dough was still sticky all through the bread. How much gram is an oz and how many milliliters are equal to a pint (do you use english or american measures)? What did I do wrong?

    • imen says:

      Hi there, are you using stoneground or coarse wholemeal flour? That is crucial. The bread is quite soft and moist in the middle, but will definitely be cooked through. What type of tin are you using? I have had so much success with this recipe and so have countless others…let’s get to the bottom of it =) thanks for your comment. Imen x

  22. Dan (Limerick) says:

    I love your brown bread, it goes beautifully with all of my homemad soups. I’ve baked lots of different breads but to be honest this is the only one that the whole family polishes off at lunch time. Even my 10 year old takes it to school with her with sliced cheddar on it.

  23. CC Coll says:

    Great blog. I tried this receipe yesterday but used baking powder instead of bread soda and couldn’t get coarse wholemeal flour so just used wholemeal. My bread turned out soggy. I’m so disappointed. What did I do wrong?

    • imen says:

      You must use baking soda for this recipe and follow it to a t for it to taste authentically like Irish brown bread. Sorry, you had trouble. Let me know how you get on if you try it again. THanks for your comment

  24. Judith says:

    I’ve been to Ireland several Times (..years ago) & became addicted to the Irish Brown Bread – you’ll never find these kind of Bread in germany. Obviously – after searching a good recipe for a long Time- I’ve finally found it! Thanks for your delicious recipe/s and your entertaining Blog!
    “rainy” regards from hamburg :o)

  25. […] paired this soup with a brown bread recipe from Imen over at It is one of the better brown bread recipes I’ve tried. The garnish is simply thinly sliced […]

  26. Peter Barrett says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for shearing this. one of the best brown breads that I have ever made or tasted

  27. Terri Brown says:

    When I was 14 (1980), I went to Ireland to tour the country with my (MUCH older) cousin, Elizabeth Casey. We spent two weeks visiting her cousins in the Drumlish area, and one of those, an older woman named Gertie, made the most delicious brown bread, and I have never had its equal. I am anxious to try yours! Thank you for sharing it!

  28. margo says:

    got up early this morning with baking on my mind. Have a vegetarian coming for Christmas so wanted to try out some recipes. Saw your site during the week and thought Id have a go at the brown bread also. Absolutely fab! I know its very quick to make, but do you ever freeze it? Thanks again for the lovely simple authentic brown bread!! Slan

  29. Sandra says:

    I’ve been dreaming of the brown bread I had the last time I was in Ireland and will have to try your recipe. I’m not much of a baker but I need my fix!

    Go raibh maith agat, Imen!

  30. Rike says:

    Dear Imen, came back from Ireland – Carrigaholt – two weeks ago – and I was looking for a good yummy Brown Bread recipe. Came across several ones, tried them, they tasted not bad but the texture wasn’t just right. So happy I came across this recipe, made me happy today… Smells great, looks great and tastes even better 🙂 Thank you ever so much!!! It is more then appreciated…

    Much love from Germany ~ Rike

    btw – love the photos as well 🙂

  31. Em says:

    Made this last night and it was fantastic! May have skimped on the honey. Will use more next time. Thanks for your hard work!

  32. Karen Brophy says:

    Recently back from a wonderful trip to Ireland. Had good and VERY good brown bread. Asked one of the owners of a B&B for her recipe but haven’t heard back. Brought back in my suitcase Odlums course flour so want to try it out; however, you didn’t say at what degree to cook your bread. Hope I get a response so I can try your receipe. Thanks

    • imen says:

      Lovely! The baking temp is the same as the preheat temp on the recipe 200c or 400f. Hope that helps, good luck and let me know how it turns out =) Thanks for your comment.

      • Karen Brophy says:

        Well I made my first loaf yesterday but I tweeked your receipe just a bit based on what the owner of the B&B said. She said that sometimes she uses treakle (spelling?) which I couldn’t find in here so I bought dark molasses and added a tbsp instead of honey. She also said she adds pumpkin seeds so I bought raw pumpkin seeds and added about 2 tbsp to batter and then some on top. (Maybe I should have toasted them first) I don’t think I’ll add those again. Also, I should have gotten some Kerrygold butter. Oh and I increased the butter to just about 3 tbsp. It was hard to get exact measurments even though I used a conversion program on the computer. But all in all for the first try not bad at all. I’m glad I found your site or I’d still be sitting with my huge bag of Odlums!!

  33. […] did some minor research, ultimately combining two recipes, this one and this one.  I did give it my own twist for the season with the modest addition of some grated apples and […]

  34. Susan says:

    Hi Imen,

    I found this recipe of your recently and was blown away, not alone by how easy it is but also how delicious it is. I too have tried many receipes and without a doubt this has got to be the nicest. Thanks for sharing.

  35. Arbutus says:

    I am not a brown soda bread expert, nor have I been to Ireland. I have, however, just made and tried your recipe here and I am delighted! I’ll be serving it with cream of fresh tomato soup. Can’t wait for hubby to get home so he can have a taste. I found your post on Pinterest and have been saving it for the right time. and what better time than a dark and stormy night? Perfection! Thank you so much.

  36. Morgan says:

    Hi Imen!

    Love the blog and this is a great recipe! Best of the brown bread recipes I’ve tried (quite a few!). Perfectly simple and tasty 🙂

  37. Eleanor says:

    Hi Imen, congratulations on the nomination! That is brilliant! I’ve gone the other way, moved over to the states recently and so miss brown bread and real butter! I’m oing to give this a go later, thanks so much. I’m very familiar with Ardagh so really appreciate your blogs and our perspective on everything Irish. We moved to Cincinnati and the differences are gas! Love your blog and I’ll certainly keep reading! Thanks, it’s great.

  38. Alaina says:

    Imen, I am so pleased to stumble upon this post — I share your sentiments about the elusive brown bread! I have been on a mission to recreate it in the States since I spent some time in Galway last year and became addicted to the stuff, but have yet to nail the recipe I have in my memory. (I think much of it has to do with the flour differences — wholemeal is hard to come by here…) But it’s a challenge I won’t give up, and I’m definitely going to give your recipe a try so thank you for sharing. And cheers on the Saveur nomination!

  39. Banu Bingör says:

    I love Saveur Awards time of the year 🙂 I learn many good and new blogs to me. Happy to know your blog as well and wishing you good luck 🙂 already voted this website 🙂 Cheers from Istanbul!

  40. Caroline says:

    I have been making a similar style bread for years. Mine adds 2 oz. of various grains (wheatgerm/oatmeal/flax seeds etc.) instead of the white flour and it is denser. Super recipe.

  41. Imen,
    Your bread recipe looks absolutely divine and I am going to give it a whirl this week. I only wish I was in Ireland to truly share it with you. I would bake it , bundle it, and walk down the street with it( or across the countryside) and share it with you over a cuppa tea. Just love the beautiful pictures and recipes. Now I am off to vote for you.
    Big love from Canada. Lynne xx

  42. A friend of mine saw your blog on the Saveur list and told me I had to check it out; not because I’m part Irish or because I tried my hand at soda bread recently but because she just thought your blog ‘a gem.’ She is so right!

    You have our votes and at least two new readers…all our best wishes but win or not; we LOVE your blog.

  43. Melissa L. says:

    Heartiest Congrats!! What an honor to have a County Limerick gal nominated! It’s well-deserved, good luck and keep doing the fabulousness that yer doin’ GIRL! Thanks for the recipe, I will DEF try it out. Richard Corrigan’s recipe is what I’ve been doing the past few years here, and it’s always made the Irishmen cry and ask for more. I have high hopes for this one, baby! Yum…sounds divine…

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