Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

IMG_2986Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.
James Beard

There may be no activity more “hands at home” than baking bread. With a zillion different kinds of bread available in every store, many of us still look for opportunities to bake our own, and it always seems to be appreciated!

I remember fondly the days when my grandmother made bread for the farm. She made all the bread for the household and used a standard yeast recipe for white bread. When the bread came out of the oven and she rubbed the crust with a stick of butter, heaven came to earth for us kids! We’d sneak into the kitchen, when no one was looking, and use our fingernails to peel pieces of buttery crust off the top of the bread. Then we’d sneak away, leaving naked, crustless bread behind, like no one would notice. How did we get away with that?!

I have been known to bake yeast bread and love it but I’m more likely to make a quicker bread. When we first visited Ireland, we learned to love the earthy, dense soda bread that is so associated with the Irish. I’ve read that it didn’t originate in Ireland at all and, honestly, I don’t care about its history—I just love the way it tastes.

And I love how easy it is to make! When I got home from that trip, serendipity kicked in and I found an issue of Bon Appetit magazine that featured Irish cooking. Their recipe for soda bread became my standard. For a while, I made it so frequently the recipe was imprinted on my brain. And then I just stopped making it and I don’t know why.

But I came across the recipe last week and made it and rekindled my love for it! It is not at all sweet, like some recipes for soda bread can be, and it has no extras added in, although I’m told some people like raisins in their soda bread (ick).

This bread is heavy and cake-like; it is perfection straight out of the over with butter and I might even like it better toasted with peanut butter. In fact, just typing that sentence got me so excited, I went directly to the toaster and am currently chewing and typing at the same time!

I think the bread must be pretty healthy, too, because all the packaging for the ingredients seems to be in shades of red, orange, and yellow, the way marketers signal consumers that food is “natural.” And marketers would never mislead us, right? I hope it’s somewhat healthy, since I’m going to be eating a lot of it now—it’s a fall and winter kind of bread! Enjoy!

IMG_2972Brown Soda Bread
Bon Appetit, May 1996

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
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well.

Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. This is my favorite part because it makes me feel like a real cook. You rub the cold butter and dry ingredients between your thumb and fingers, making that gesture like you do when you’re talking about money. (Does that make any sense?)

Stir in enough buttermilk to form soft dough. I used about 1 ½ cups and it seemed like enough this time.

Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is dark brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. I cooked mine about 37 minute.

Turn bread out onto cooling rack. Turn right side up and cool.

* My wheat bran was “untoasted” so I actually put these two ingredients
in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and stirred them around until
they smelled like they were toasting. I’m not sure in makes a lot of difference in the final product.


24 thoughts on “Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

  1. Living in Germany I’m a bit spoilt for choice when it comes to bread, but I still love to make my own every now and then 🙂 I haven’t tried soda bread before. I like that it’s packed full of bran and oats! Must try 🙂

  2. A good post for the weekend! it is always extra nice I ind to bake something on friday and the smells get the house in a ‘relax-it-is-weekend’ kind of mood. Have a great weekdn with tasty bread ;0)

    • I do love house the house smells! And our weekend is going to be cloudy and rainy, after the most glorious weather, so a bowl of soup and slice of bread and butter will be perfect.

  3. Oh my goodness I love brown soda bread, it’s really traditional in Ireland where I grew up. My grandmother used to make it twice a week, and she didn’t need to measure anything, she used to use a handful of this and that, she knew by instinct exactly what needed to go in; it was so delicious with lots of salty butter and a cup of tea! A tip if your crust gets a bit hard: When you take the loaf out of the oven, put a very slightly damp teacloth over it.
    Oh and we don’t usually use a loaf pan, we put it on a lightly floured baking tray, and make a cross in the loaf. Granny said it was to bless the loaf but really it’s to stop it cracking unevenly!

    • I love your comment! Thanks for the tip about the teacloth and next time I make it I will “bless” it, like your Granny did! We love Ireland and are going back for the 4th time next fall. What part are you from?

        • I’ve been to Sligo–have photos of Ben Bulben and Yeat’s grave! It is beautiful there. We like the North West best in general. I’m not sure of our whole plan yet–we’ll start in Dublin, go back to Newgrange and head to Donegal. I have yet to figure it out from there.

  4. Its been a few years since I baked soda bread and now that I see your wonderful yummy photo, I know I’ll have to try your recipe 🙂 Annie

  5. You know what, I have never made my own bread and I don’t know why because freshly home baked bread must be so delicious! i love a chunky slice of soda bread and butter with soup, yumm 🙂 Yours looks so tasty! xx

    • If you’ve never baked bread, one like this is what you should start with. It really is easy and you can probably find a good recipe for Irish soda bread with fewer ingredients. Look on

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