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. […] 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 […]

  2. Roisin says:

    Hi Imen, Van Morrison blaring and this amazing bread baking away in the oven here in chilly pre-Christmassy Dublin 😉 Yours is the first brown bread recipe I can hang my hat on and know it will go down a storm every time. Been baking it since you posted it – and only now getting round to saying a proper THANK YOU!

  3. Debbie says:

    I baked this bread was so good.Better than store bought. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  4. Kim says:

    Thank you for this wonderful recipe.
    I’ve made a lot of brown bread over the years and this is one of the nicest I’ve ever tasted.
    It’s soft with a lovely crust, and the whole family loved it.

  5. Dan says:

    This is a lovely bread! Ive baked your bread for a couple of years now! Like merlin above, In south Ireland we have a wheaten bread too which varies slightly. We dont rub in any butter but add in poppy seed and sunflower seed, Sprinkle with sesame seed and drissle with honey! It gives a slightly drier bread and is a twist on our traditional soda bread! Lovely with homemade soup!!

  6. Donna says:

    Made this yesterday,never baked brown bread, never even bake! Turned out amazing. I preheated the oven at 200 (fan oven) but baked it at 180 and it turned out perfect couldn’t believe it 😀

  7. hollie says:

    Hello… made twice now and very tasty but the consistency in never “pure-able” it’s a very sticky dough? followed recipe to a T. hmmm? just waiting for it to come out of oven…. yummmmmm x

    • imen says:

      Hi Hollie, yes, the dough is very wet and sticky. It’s not like a yeast bread. Just spoon it in and it will be yummy when comes out!

  8. Catherine says:

    Sounds lovely!! I am going to try this recipe. I just made some brown bread using the Odlums pack mix and it came out good but it breaks when I cut it – what causes that ?

    • Boat says:

      If you cut bread when it comes out of the oven or if it hasn’t cooled down enough it will break and crumble. If the bread is cold and cut and still crumbles there probably was too little flour.

    • Sherry says:

      I have read that the bread needs to be de-panned as soon as you are able, or else the bread gets too damp from internal steam and will break apart. Maybe try that?

  9. Leah says:

    Very excited to make this! I usually make Avoca’s brown bread but wanted to try a more traditional bread that was softer and from the pictures this looks just the ticket! I was just wondering though, how do you store your bread to make sure it doesn’t get that hard chewy crust? Also, ordinarily do you cover the loaf with tin foil while baking or do you just pop it straight in the oven in the loaf pan? Thanks!

    • imen says:

      Pop a tea towel over the top when it comes out of the pan (don’t leave in pan, it will get a soggy bottom quite fast!)

  10. Queen Bri says:

    Followed the recipe to a T…and the Irish (Corkonian) husband smiles!! i nailed it. Your recipe is GREAT! Thank you

  11. anonymous says:

    I made this today, it was ridiculously easy and it took me right back to Ireland where I used to live. Smells great too, thank you for sharing this recipe!

  12. Shannon says:

    I tried this today for the first time, and had not a clue what Irish Brown Bread should taste like – thought my Great Grandfather was Irish. I had to convert the measurements to what we would use in the US, and followed the recipe precisely. I really thought I had messed it up, because the dough was more like a batter (like cornbread) rather than a dough to be shaped. I popped it in the oven and hoped it would be edible for our St. Patrick’s Day meal. It was AMAZING!!! The most perfect quick bread. My family devoured it and I’m likely making it again for brekky in the morning. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • imen says:

      Hi Shannon, so delighted that it worked out….the dough is gloppy and it’s scary for a minute! I might add note that into the recipe instructions. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  13. Merlin says:

    I’ve come to this very late and found it accidentally after seeing a photo of the bread reproduced on another web site. I recognised it immediately as I grew up eating it and it’s still one of my favourite breads. We call it oven wheaten in the North of Ireland, to distinguish it from griddle breads. When I left Ireland and moved to Wales I spent a long time looking for a recipe to reproduce my favourite bread at home. I met with increasing success, and had just about cracked it, at the time that one of our major supermarket chains started selling a Northern Irish oven wheaten. Ironic. My home loaf is different and at least as good but sometimes it’s easier to just pick one up off the shelf.

    • imen says:

      Thanks Merlin, did you try my recipe???? I’d love to know how it compares. It did win 2nd prize in an Irish Brown Bread Baking Contest!

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