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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Blaa Blaa Blaa

02 Feb 2012

The first time I heard the word Blaa, pronounced “Blah”, I was instantly reminded of our good friend, Gregory. Gregory is a talented screenwriter who has a magnificent way with words, yet in conversation, is quite fond of trailing off his sentences with an endearing “blah blah blah” while still managing to be a charming intellectual. When you move to another country, these are just the types of nuances you miss…the little things…..the blah blah blahs.

The Irish Blaa is a gorgeous yeast bread roll which originated in County Waterford, and is anything but blah. It is the only indigenous Irish yeast roll in existence, and is used primarily as a filled sandwich. After trying a Blaa in Dungarvan a few years ago and loving the flavour and texture, I was thrilled to find the recipe in Niamh Shield’s brilliant cookery book, Comfort & Spice. And just so you know, yes, the dough takes its sweet time to be oven ready, and, yes, it is well worth the wait because these rolls are really some kind of wonderful.

I recently learned that the Waterford Blaa is being considered for the status of European Protected Geographical Integrity that will prevent any similar products produced outside of Waterford being given the same name. The Waterford native Blaa differentiates from a regular bap due to the dusting of flour on top before baking. The Blaa is also free of any preservatives, which means many of the reported 12,000 Blaas produced daily are consumed by Waterford City by lunchtime.

If the EU protected status is achieved, each bakery producing Blaas will under go an annual verification process, which will include a thorough traceability of all ingredients and an inspection of the production method involved in producing the Blaa. Furthermore, The Blaa will be only one of five Irish food products enjoying such status.

We used our freshly baked rolls to make baby Blaas sliders for supper last night which brought a smile to everyone sitting ’round the farmtable…

Niamh’s Blaa recipe from Comfort & Spice

Makes 8 Rolls

10g active dried yeast

10g caster (superfine) sugar

500g extra strong white flour, plus more for dusting

10g sea salt

10g unsalted butter

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 275ml lukewarm water. Ensure that the water is warm, not cold or hot. Leave for 10 minutes. It should get nice and frothy, indicating that the yeast is alive and well.

Sift together the flour and salt, to introduce air. Rub in the butter. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will go from rough to shiny.

Place in a bowl, cover with cling film, and leave in a warm place for45 minutes. Remove from the bowl and knock back , pushing the air out the dough. Rest for 15 minutes, to give the gluten time to relax; this will make shaping easier.

Divide the dough into eight pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Rest for five minutes more, covered.

Dust a baking dish with flour and place in the balls, side by side. Dredge with flour. Leave in a warm place for 50 minutes. Nearly there! Preheat oven to 210/410f/gas mark 6.5. Dredge the blaas with flour for a final time and bake for 15-20 minutes.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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18 Aug 2011

Yes, we went to the Irish Fair, and yes, we had a lovely….noteworthy time {incl. a very odd introduction to “Irish Nachos”}

But, then we packed up, headed east and, as is always the case when I reach my hometown, time seems to stand still and so do we. Will be travelling back to Ireland on the 28th where I will hit the ground running with a number of events in which to attend and/or participate, if you are in Ireland or planning a trip in early September please come along!

August 30th Food Summer School feat. Alice Waters & Darina Allen, Brooklodge Hotel

September 4th Electric Picnic, Theatre of Food, {Farmhouse Butter Making + Cooking Demo}

September 5th, Outstanding in the Field, Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork

September 10th, GIY Gathering, Waterford Royal Theatre {Farmhouse Butter Making Demo}

Normal foodie posts will resume once we are back on the farm….until then, we will be dallying on the dunes.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell

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