Monday 15 March 2010

Irish Brown Bread

It's the middle of March, and that means Irish recipes are popping up everywhere - especially soda bread recipes. Most of these are for a mildly sweet, cake-like bread with raisins. However, soda bread in Ireland is not sweet, nor does it have fruit in it (and it certainly does not have green sugar over top of it, as I've seen in some American grocery stores)! Usually, Irish soda bread has a nubbly wholemeal texture, and is plain enough that it goes equally well with tea at breakfast or with a bowl of potato soup for supper.

This bread, known simply as "brown bread," is also ubiquitous in western Ireland. It can be found at the table of nearly any traditional restaurant or bed-and-breakfast. Because many families have their own way of making it, countless recipes for this bread exist - but they all are based on some very simple ingredients: wholemeal flour, oats, and buttermilk.

I created a gluten-free version by comparing a number of (wheaten) brown bread recipes. The result is a nutty, wholesome loaf; the oats give it a nice chewy texture. It's good with butter or jam, or even topped with some Irish cheese. Enjoy!

Irish Brown Bread

3/8 c Buckwheat flour
3/8 c Teff flour
1/4 c Soy flour
1/4 c Oat flour (be sure it's certified gluten-free)
1/4 c Potato starch
1/4 c Tapioca starch
2 T Garbanzo Bean flour
2 T Sorghum flour
2 T White Rice flour
2 T Expandex modified tapioca starch
1/2 c pin-head oats (again, be sure they are certified GF)

1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp guar gum
1/4 tsp dough enhancer (optional)

1 ounce unsalted butter (Kerrygold is best)
1 1/4 c buttermilk


Pre-heat the oven to 400° F/204° C. (If using a glass loaf pan, lower the temperature to 375° F/190° C.)

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers. Gradually mix in the buttermilk. The dough will be wet but stiff; beat it until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Spoon the dough into a buttered loaf pan. Smooth the top with a wet spatula. Make 3 - 4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until it is lightly browned and the centre is no longer wet. Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a tea towel. Wrap it up in the tea towel (this keeps the moisture in) and do not cut it until it has completely cooled.


  1. Do you know what exactly is in the "Expandex" stuff? Their website is remarkably mute on the subject. I didn't have any, so I just substituted some regular tapioca starch. It potentially has some rising properties, because my loaf came out a little over an inch high. Still, thank you for the recipe! It is really tasty, and I am toasting a few slices with cheddar on top as I type. The steel-cut oats give it a lovely texture.

  2. Hi Amy,

    Expandex is tapioca flour that has been modified slightly to change the structure of the starch or protein. In the food industry this is often done with enzymes. The resulting product does help with rising and also with binding.

    I'm so glad you like the recipe!

  3. This almost looks like pumpernickel bread. Hm, I bet you could add some cocoa and caraway seeds and it might pass for pumpernickel. What do you think?