Photo: Shutterstock / Rrrainbow
Travel to Ireland and you’ll find this staple in every Irish bakery, restaurant and kitchen. Irish brown bread (not to be confused with Irish soda bread) couldn’t be further from our white, fluffy American Wonder Bread as it has a rich nutty flavor that’s attributed to the milling process of the stoneground wholewheat flour its made from. The outer crust gives a satisfying crunch while the dense interior bread is baked soft. It’s the kind of classic Irish food that will fill your belly—much like these other traditional Irish dishes.
Fascinated with this charming loaf, I decided to do a deep-dive into the culture behind this comforting dish.
All About Irish Brown Bread
Most Irishmen and women eat Irish brown bread for breakfast or lunch. It’s best served simple, with a slather of butter or as a dunker to accompany a hearty bowl of soup. (Try this cozy potato soup recipe in your slow-cooker!)
There’s much debate over how to make Irish brown bread the “right” way. Many Irish bakers claim that if it Irish brown bread is not made with Irish flour, (even if it is stoneground whole wheat) then it will not be as good. I reached out to Marie Schweighardt Dooley, an Irish native and chef, to see if this was true. She was more forgiving: “Lord, no. Everyone should enjoy a slice of homemade brown bread. Great with soups, open sandwiches, jams. Very filling—especially during winter.”
The truth is, Irish brown bread is pretty easy to make. (No Irish wheat imports, necessary!) There is no need to let the bread rise, which cuts down on prep time, and it only takes a couple turns on a floured surface to bring the ingredients together. That means even the most novice of bakers can make this delicious bread.
As, I’m not one to turn away from a challenge, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Note: The following recipe is a traditional recipe, though I added two tablespoons of molasses to the recipe as many recipes do for extra flavor and to ensure a dark brown color. Also I used King Arthur’s brand, but if you want to get precise, The Little Mill (an Irish company) is now selling Irish stoneground flour ($17) in small bags in the United States. (Or you can buy this brown bread mix ($9) also produced by The Little Mill.
Traditional Irish Brown Bread Recipe
- 3 cups stoneground whole wheat flour
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1/2–3/4 pints buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 ounce wheatgerm (optional)
- 1 ounce wheat bran (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda into a medium bowl. Mix in the whole wheat flour. Stir in the wheat germ and wheat bran, too (optional). Add the molasses and enough of the buttermilk to create a soft dough.
- Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface. Knead just enough for the dough to come together.
- Form the dough into a round and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Cut a cross in the center.
- Place in the middle rack and bake for about 40 minutes.
- The bread is ready if it sounds hollow if you tap it at the base. Allow bread to cool on a wire rack. Wrap a tea towel around it during this phase for a softer crust.
The result? Though I don’t have a loaf of brown bread directly from Ireland to compare it to, my American made version was scrumptious! Since baking the first loaf, I’ve made two others and none has lasted longer than a day.
There are many ways to eat this delicious bread, but my favorite was slathered with some high-quality Irish butter like Kerrygold. Mmm-mmm! Enjoy!
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