I am reverting today to a simple Irish classic, that maybe isn’t quite as simple as it appears to be. Brown bread is a staple of Irish food — everyone serves it, all the time. It is dark, hardy, and filling, and when spread with butter and jam, it’s about the closest thing to heaven you can put in your mouth. I wanted to get the recipe out to you because next week, I will be talking about the “Full Irish Breakfast” and brown bread can definitely be a part of that.
When I started to look for a recipe for myself, I learned a lot about this basic food item. First of all, there are as many recipes for the “classic” brown bread as there are cooks in Ireland. Everyone seems to have their own take on it, and it seems like most of those recipes have found their way to the web. If you Google “Irish brown bread” or even “classic Irish brown bread” you will find a gazillion options and there are very few similarities between them other than the fact that it’s bread and it’s baked. Beyond that, everything seems to be up for grabs. There are even mixes out there that claim to be the original brown bread. I haven’t tried them and won’t recommend one in particular, but if you have a hankerin’ for trying it the easy way, you might want to give these a shot.
The way I see it, brown bread falls into one of three categories and trying to pin down which one is right is as difficult as . . . well, catching a leprechaun, I guess! Everyone has their own ideas and there’s no right answer. There is such a thing as brown soda bread, which is like a baking powder biscuit, only bigger, made using whole wheat flour, baked in a round, with the traditional X on top. There is also a yeast bread which you actually knead, put into loaf pans, and then bake. There is also a mix between the two, a quick bread using baking soda and buttermilk or other acid to leaven it, but still baked in a loaf pan. It is this last category that I decided I wanted to make. The bread I had when I was in Ireland seemed to be more like this — very dense and heavy and baked in a loaf pan. I do have a recipe for soda bread (I’ll share it when we get closer to March) so I didn’t want that again. And the yeast loaf seemed more to me to just be regular whole wheat bread, which is definitely not the Irish brown bread I was salivating over. So I found this recipe and made it, and it turned out pretty close to what I remembered.
I ground my own wheat for this and left it kind of coarse because I knew that the bread could handle it. If that’s not an option, you might want to try getting your wheat flour from a health food store or the like that has a bit coarser grind. That way you get that really hardy texture that is so delicious. Also, just another note, I never did buy the wheat bran. I couldn’t find it when I was looking and for 3 Tablespoons in the recipe, I decided it wasn’t worth it. I just used more wheat germ. But if you have access to both the bran and the germ, it might add some more depth of flavor to the final product.
Irish Brown Bread
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran
- 3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats (do not use quick-cooking oats)
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 450ºF. Do not start until the oven is hot.
- Butter and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
- Put the first 8 ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
- Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal.
- Scoop out a well in the flour and pour in about ¾ of the buttermilk. With your fingers draw the flour into the buttermilk, mixing them with as light a touch as you can. The dough should come together easily into a soft ball, if it is too dry add a little more buttermilk but avoid allowing the dough to become sticky.
- Turn the dough onto a floured board, mix quickly, and transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Place in the oven immediately.
- After 10 minutes reduce the heat to 400ºF. Bake for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and dump the bread onto a hot pad or towel, then knock on the base of the loaf – if it sounds hollow it is done. If not, return to the pan and oven for about 5-10 minutes more.