A crusty and satisfying brown wheat soda bread.
I always assumed that Irish soda bread was the white flour variety. The the large, crusty, golden ball with the “x” cut through the top, folded with caraway seeds and raisins. But a trip to Ireland with my mom a few years ago revealed a far different picture of Irish soda bread. Soda bread was ubiquitous — at breakfast, restaurant bread baskets, bakeries. But rather than a sweet, white flour loaf, we encountered a deliciously rustic whole wheat variety, baked in a loaf pan, and sliced thick.
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It took several tries to get this recipe right. My first attempts, using only whole wheat flour and no egg, resembled something less like bread and more like a large rock that a swarthy Irish longshoreman could throw at another longshoreman’s head in a bar fight. But softening the wheatiness with some white flour, enriching the dough with an egg, and making a couple of other modifications eventually got the bread right where it should be.
This loaf takes minor liberties from the super-plain original; it incorporates flax meal, oats, millet, and raisins. Any of these is optional, but the combination results in a hearty brown loaf that tastes a little more nutty, interesting and sweet than standard brown soda bread. It still retains, however, the traditional thick crust and dense (but not heavy) crumb.
If you want to go all out, I highly recommend ordering Irish-style wholemeal flour from King Arthur. It has a little less gluten than regular whole wheat, and a more coarse and interesting texture. Regular whole wheat flour will work fine, though — just make sure to include the oatmeal and flax meal to compensate for the texture.
What kind of soda bread do you prefer? Share in the comments, below.
Irish Brown Soda Bread
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons flax meal
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar, light or dark
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup millet (optional)
- 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and lightly grease a loaf pan.
- In a small mixing bowl, pour warm water over the raisins. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes while you mix the dough, then drain well. PRO TIP: Dried fruit will always seek rehydration, so better to soften them with warm water than have them pull moisture from the dough as it bakes and make the bread taste dry.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, flax meal, oats, millet, and brown sugar. Stir well with a whisk to combine the ingredients and aerate them.
- In another bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk.
- Create a well in the center of the dry goods bowl. Add the raisins, millet, egg, and buttermilk mixture to the center. Using your fingers, draw the flour into the center and mix the dough together. Be sure to get the flour on the sides and bottom and mix it well, but do not overmix. The dough should look mostly sticky and combined, but shaggy and in clumps.
- Sprinkle a little flour on your hands and the top of the dough, then turn the dough out into the loaf pan. Lightly press the dough until it is even in the loaf pan. Brush the top with a little buttermilk.PRO TIP: Hand sticky and full of dough? The best way to remove it is to put a generous amount of flour on your hands and rub them together. Then wash.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 425°F, then lower the temperature to 400°F and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the bottom sounds very hollow when tapped, and the loaf is nicely browned. Let cool a bit before eating.