Posted by: marthabernie | February 14, 2017 – or the Best Irish Brown Bread – Part Two (Updated)

If you didn’t read my post yesterday about, please go back and take a look at it as it will give you more details about Imen McDonnell, an American broadcast journalist who met and married an Irish dairy farmer and moved to rural County Limerick, Ireland.  She started blogging a few years ago about her life on the farm, and a friend of mine in Ireland told me about the blog.  Imen has recently come out with her first cookbook, “The Farmette Cookbook, Recipes and Adventures from My Life on an Irish Farm,” which is available on Amazon (Roost Books).  I entered a contest on her blog site and won a copy of this new book, and I received it from the publisher a few months ago.  It’s a great read, never mind the wonderful recipes and gorgeous photographs.

After going through the book, I decided my first attempt would be her recipe for Irish brown bread.  If you’ve been to Ireland and sampled it, you know that we have nothing like it in the U.S.   Since 1990, I have brought it back in my carry on luggage; I have brought back Odlums whole meal flour in my checked luggage (adding a lot of weight, I might add) so that I could make my own–Odlums is the whole meal flour brand sold in Ireland; and in recent years, I have brought back (or had friends bring to L.A.) the “just add water” (or buttermilk) mixes.  My early attempts with the Odlums whole meal flour were not successful.  The bread baked OK, but it just didn’t taste the same.  A friend from Ireland who spends the winter with her son in California most years also tried making it here, and her results were similar…not the same thing.  We could not figure out why and it’s still a mystery, although some people think the weather or Southern California climate has something to do with it.  When I brought back a “just add milk” packet that I had purchased at Aldi in Ireland in 2012, it was PERFECT…as in just like what you get in Ireland.  I thought I had hit the jackpot, but then Aldi decided to discontinue the mix.  Frustration….

Imen McDonnell says that she was repeatedly asked for “the best brown bread” recipe and that she came up with this one in her own kitchen.  She entered it into an Irish bread baking competition and won a top prize!  The interesting thing is that it’s nearly the same as my friend’s mother’s recipe, except for one ingredient.  Another friend also uses nearly the same recipe but omits one (other) ingredient and adds 1/4 cup all purpose flour.  Another friend’s recipe is nearly the same but she uses sugar instead of honey and omits the egg.    Yet another friend adds a teaspoon of cream of tartar.  Go figure.

When I set out to make the bread last week, I had to find some stoneground whole wheat flour.  For those of us in the U.S., Imen recommends Bob’s Red Mills Stoneground Whole Wheat flour if you can’t get the Irish stuff.  So I went to one market and could only find Bob’s whole wheat flour, not the stoneground variety.  I bought it anyway and went to another market where I did find the stoneground flour.   In the meantime, I also ordered the King Arthur “Irish Style” Stoneground Whole Wheat flour and waited for it to arrive.  I had used it once before and liked it’s consistency and flavor.

Once I had three types of whole wheat flour plus my usual Gold Medal Whole Wheat brand,  I decided I would give them all a try.  I first made the bread with the Bob’s whole wheat and the result was good, but not quite as heavy or grainy as I like this bread.  I then tried Bob’s stoneground whole wheat and noticed immediately that the dough was heavier and not quite as sticky.  The result was also good and I liked this bread more than the first one.  I then made the bread with the Gold Medal whole wheat flour, and it was a lot like the first batch I made with Bob’s whole wheat (not stoneground).  Finally, the King Arthur “Irish Style”  Whole Wheat flour arrived from Amazon, and I tried the same recipe with this type of flour.  Bingo!  The dough was heavier, the bread was heavier and most like what I have consumed in Ireland.  Very tasty!  Fortunately, my family loves this brown bread and were happy to be the recipients of all the various incarnations, minus a slice or two of each for my personal taste testing!

If you’ve never tried Irish brown bread but like a heavy, full flavored loaf, give this a try.    Imen has graciously allowed me to set out her recipe below.  And when you buy stoneground whole wheat flour, it really is worth getting the King Arthur “Irish Style” or Bob’s.


3/4 cup (100 g) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups (275 g) coarse-ground whole wheat flour such as Bob’s Red Mills Stoneground Whole Wheat Flour (or King Arthur “Irish Style” Stoneground Whole Wheat flour.  Odlums is also available through

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1-1/2 cups (375 ml) buttermilk

1 large egg

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, salt and baking soda.  Mix in the whole wheat flour. Rub or cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and honey.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids.  Mix together with a spoon.  The dough will be wet and sticky.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and cut a line down the middle.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool for ten minutes, pop the bread out of the pan, and cover with a tea towel.  It tastes best on the same day but will last for two or three days in the bread box.

If you prefer, you can form a round with the dough and place it on a floured baking sheet or pour it into a well oiled cast iron pan.  Cut the traditional cross through the center, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

NOTE:  I always wrap the loaf completely in a clean tea towel when I take it out of the pan.  It cools and keeps a lot of moisture in the bread that way. Nothing better than this bread with some Kerrygold Irish butter, blackberry jam or marmalade!



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