Recipe: Irish cooks came to this country knowing how to make brown bread with their eyes closed

Irish brown bread
Irish brown breadSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

Irish brown bread

Makes 1 large round

Irish cooks can make brown bread, one of a group of “soda breads,” with their eyes closed. When homes only had open fires for cooking, an iron pot called a “bastible” was filled with soda-bread dough and hung over the fire to bake. One way to imitate this method is to set the dough inside a heavy enamel-coated Dutch oven with a lid, which makes a firm crust and soft crumb. You can also bake it in a cast-iron skillet loosely covered with foil or on a parchment-lined sheet uncovered. This dough is mixed with whole-wheat and all-purpose flour, but without yeast or sugar, so it isn’t sweet like some soda breads. The bread is done when you can tap it on the bottom with your knuckles and the sound is hollow. Serve with butter or jam or both.


Butter (for the pan)
All-purpose flour (for the pan)
3cups whole-wheat flour
cups all-purpose flour
teaspoons salt
teaspoons baking soda
4tablespoons butter, cut up
2cups buttermilk
Extra all-purpose flour (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Have on hand a round Dutch oven with a lid that measures 8½ to 9 inches across. Butter the pan and dust it with flour.

2. In a bowl with a pastry blender or 2 blunt knives, mix the whole-wheat and all-purpose flours, salt, and baking soda.

3. Add the butter and work it into the flour until the butter is reduced to crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the buttermilk until the mixture forms a rough dough.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and with the spatula, cut through the dough a dozen times so it is evenly moist. Knead gently until smooth, shaping it into a large ball with all the seams on the bottom. With a long sharp knife, mark a ¾-inch-deep cross on top of the dough. Transfer the round to the Dutch oven.

5. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the middle of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 400 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes or until it is puffed and lightly browned. Remove the lid and continue baking for 10 minutes more, or until the top is well browned and the dough sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles on the bottom. Total baking time is 50 minutes.


6. Carefully turn the dough out and set it right side up on a wire rack to cool. Cut into thick slices. Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.