Traditional Irish Wheaten Bread (Brown Soda Bread)

Traditional Irish wheaten bread in a plate with butter

The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 50 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
343 Calories
3g Fat
69g Carbs
15g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 343
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g 4%
Saturated Fat 1g 4%
Cholesterol 4mg 1%
Sodium 1020mg 44%
Total Carbohydrate 69g 25%
Dietary Fiber 10g 34%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 15g
Vitamin C 1mg 5%
Calcium 138mg 11%
Iron 3mg 18%
Potassium 466mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

In Northern Ireland, brown soda bread is made with whole wheat flour and known as wheaten bread; in the Ireland, soda bread tends to be made with all-purpose flour. You may also know this as brown bread which in Ireland typically refers to the same thing as wheaten bread in the North. Sometimes you'll find recipes with a combination of whole wheat (also referred to as wholemeal) flour and all-purpose flour.

Nevertheless, soda bread is a quick bread that gets its name because it's leavened with baking soda instead of yeas. Traditionally it would be baked on a hot cast-iron griddle over an open peat fire. The griddled bread would be cooked into a round with an indentation marking the quarters; each quarter is called a farl. Today, the bread is baked in the oven with consistent results.

While some recipes for wheaten bread include a couple of teaspoons of sugar and tablespoons of butter, which makes it sweeter and a little richer, this recipe keeps it as simple as possible. When using baking soda, a recipe must include an acidic element for the soda to release gas and allow the bread to rise. In this recipe, buttermilk provides the acidity. You can't substitute regular milk as it isn't acidic enough; the bread won't rise.

This is a hearty, nutty bread that's enjoyed sliced with butter, or make a ploughman's lunch by serving the soda bread on a platter with cheese, fruit, and slices of cured meat. Soda bread is also perfect for afternoon tea.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups/500 grams whole wheat flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 2 1/4 cups/500 milliliters buttermilk

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for traditional Irish wheaten bread
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  2. Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C or Gas Mark 6).

  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add the buttermilk and stir to form a loose dough.

    Mix flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk to form a loose dough.
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  4. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Knead the dough gently a few times until smooth.

    Kneaded dough into a ball
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and flatten to roughly 2 inches (5 centimeters) thick. Using a sharp knife, lightly slash the surface of the dough in the shape of an X.

    Shaped dough with an X cut across the top
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  6. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until well risen and light brown in color.

    Fully baked Irish wheaten bread on a baking sheet
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack
  7. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

    Cooled and sliced Irish brown bread
    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

Tips

  • In Ireland, the measurements in recipes are given in grams and milliliters. It is best to weigh your flour as there can be a variance in volume and weight when using measuring cups. Many kitchen scales (even in the U.S.) will give you the weight in grams as well as ounces. In this recipe, 500 grams of flour equals 1 pound, 2 ounces.
  • If you are out of buttermilk or cannot find it at the grocery store, you can always approximate it at home using an acid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of acid per 1 cup of milk (whole milk works best).

Recipe Variation

To make vegan soda bread, you can substitute nondairy milk, but you need to include an acid such as lemon juice to activate the baking soda. For this recipe, mix 1 3/4 cup nut milk with 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes before adding it to the recipe in place of the buttermilk.

How to Store Irish Wheaten Bread

Irish brown soda bread will keep for 2 to 3 days, but it has to be well-wrapped in foil. It takes well to toasting on the second and third day after you bake it. However, it's so easy to make and requires no rise time that it's easy to understand why it's customary to make this bread daily.

Irish wheaten bread also freezes well. Wrap any leftovers up tightly, store it in a zip-close freezer bag, and reheat in a low oven until warmed all the way through. (This will depend on how large your loaf is.)