Thinking that brown bread has been an Irish staple for thousands of years is an understandable mistake, but it’s really only graced dinner tables since about the 1840s when baking soda was introduced to the Emerald Isle. Contrary to what some might believe, Irish soda bread is an American invention, but brown bread is the real deal.
Still, the consistency and shape of brown bread is largely dependent on where in Ireland it’s being baked, according to Abigail’s Bakery in New Hampshire. Bakers in the south shape the dough round and bake it as a loaf; in the north the bread is flattened more and shaped into four triangles before baking.
The ingredients are roughly the same, though; flour, sour milk, salt, and baking soda instead of yeast. A cross is also usually carved into the top of the bread to keep the devil at bay.
To help celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and lend a true Irish flavor to the day, we offer this recipe straight from a guesthouse in Dublin courtesy of Afar magazine:
½ pound (2 cups) organic coarse whole wheat flour
½ pound (2 cups) organic fine whole wheat flour
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp bread soda (raising agent)
4 tbsp salted butter
15 fl. ounces buttermilk
1 large organic egg
1-2 tbsp oats to sprinkle on top loaf before baking
1. Let the buttermilk and egg come to room temperature.
2. Grease a 1-pound loaf tin or, alternatively, line it with grease-proof paper, and preheat oven for 15 minutes at 400°F.
3. Combine all the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.
4. In a pot, melt the butter, then pour it into a bowl with the room-temperature buttermilk.
5. Working quickly, whisk one egg in a separate bowl, add it to the butter and buttermilk, and whisk together lightly.
6. Add the wet mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon.
7. When all the ingredients are combined well—the consistency should be wet but firm, and you should be able to clean your bowl of all the dough with your wooden spoon—pour the dough into the loaf tin and smooth out the top with a wooden spoon.
8. Sprinkle oats over top.
9. Bake in the middle of the oven at 400°F for 50 minutes.
10. Remove the loaf and cool on a wire rack. (Some bakers drape a damp tea towel over the top to prevent the crust from becoming too thick.)