Irish brown bread is unforgettable. It’s ruggedly sweet from molasses, with a tender crumb and precisely the bread we ate every day when we visited Ireland a dozen years ago. We’ve remembered it and talked about it and I’ve tried for years to replicate it, I’ve attempted a couple of recipes that didn’t meet our memories.
While cleaning out one of the neglected boxes from our move, I found a stash of old Gourmet magazines that I’d brought back home after my mother died. A 1967 issue had a picture of brown bread on the cover and the recipe from the Royal Hibernian Hotel in Dublin. It was a dated recipe that used sugar, which I swapped out for molasses, and sour milk which I chose to read as buttermilk.
This is the savory side of Irish soda bread’s lineage with wheat flour and no raisins. There’s no rising or resting, just stir, form, and bake. It’s spectacular slathered with butter as breakfast toast and marvelous with hummus served next to a hearty veg soup, which is how we enjoyed it when visiting the Emerald Isle. Don’t forget to pour a Guinness, tho’ any local will tell you “Ach. Guinness. It’s ruin’t the instant it leaves our shores.”
600 grams (about 5 cups) whole wheat flour
300 grams (about 2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
256 grams (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, in small cubes (this is a good time to break out the Kerrygold)
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
113 grams (about 1/3 cup) molasses
Preheat the oven to 400F
In a large bowl, whisk the two flours, baking soda, and salt together. Use your fingers to mix in the small bits of butter, smashing them between your fingers and combining them with the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
In a medium bowl (or a large mixing cup with a pouring spout), whisk the buttermilk, eggs, and molasses until combined. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mix and pour in the liquids. Use a fork (or chopsticks!) to combine the dough until shaggy and mixed. Let it sit for 10 minutes so the flour can absorb the liquids.
Stir again to get any remaining flour incorporated into the dough ball, then turn out the dough (and any remaining floury mix) on to a work surface that’s been lightly dusted with flour. Knead the dough until it is smooth and collected.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball, then flatten slightly. Use a sharp knife to form an X across the top, about 1/2-inch deep. Bake for 50 minutes until browned. The internal temperature will measure 190F. Cool completely before slicing. The bread freezes perfectly, either sliced or whole.