Irish Brown Bread

4.85 from 26 votes
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Make a loaf of this delicious Irish brown bread recipe for your St. Patrick’s Day feast! A hearty quickbread made from whole wheat flour with sweet and malted flavors. Each tender slice pairs perfectly with corned beef and cabbage.

Here's how to make a traditional Irish brown bread.

Recipe Science

  • Irish brown bread utilizes baking soda as a leavening agent, which reacts with the acidity in buttermilk to produce carbon dioxide, creating a rise and giving the bread its characteristic texture.
  • Using coarse whole-grain wheat flour in the bread introduces a rich, earthy flavor and a hearty texture, enhancing the traditional rustic appeal.
  • Baking at a consistent temperature ensures even cooking, allowing the bread to develop a crusty exterior while the interior remains soft and moist.

Why It Works

I bake a traditional loaf of Irish soda bread yearly to serve at my family’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. But to switch things up occasionally, I make delicious Irish brown bread, which has become a popular request. The good news is it’s still quick and easy to prepare and made using baking soda.

Instead of using all-purpose flour, whole wheat adds a more hearty and nutty taste. I use a combination of ingredients to add a hint of sweetness and malty flavor to each slice. It’s also great to serve for breakfast, especially toasted with creamy butter and corned beef hash.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients necessary to make this Irish brown bread recipe.
  • Flour: I skip the white flour and use all whole wheat flour. The slightly high protein content, 13 to 14%, and ground bran give a dense, heartier bread.
  • Oats: A small amount of old-fashioned rolled adds a slight chewiness and nutty flavor.
  • Leavening Agent: Baking soda gives the quick bread instant rise for a stunning domed top.
  • Salt: Kosher salt helps to enhance the flavor.
  • Butter: To add tenderness and fat to the bread. It prevents a dry crumb, just like making Irish soda bread.
  • Sweeteners: To add sweetness, mix in some dark brown sugar. It also acts as a humectant, keeping the bread soft for nearly a week! Molasses add sweetness and a darker brown hue.
  • Buttermilk: Buttermilk adds tanginess to the bread, and the acid helps to activate the baking soda, giving the bread rise as it bakes.
  • Beer: Add in Guinness Irish dry stout. The malted and roasted barley, hops, and yeast add incredible flavor, dimension, and aroma to the bread. Quickbreads tend to lack the flavor that yeast bread has due to the fermentation of the yeast. Adding in the beer provides that taste without the time required to develop it.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

Now you know how to make Irish brown bread, try these simple ways to switch up the flavors.

  • Flour: Try spelt, sprouted whole wheat flour, or eikorn. Use whole grain gluten-free options for any dietary restrictions.
  • Oats: Quick oats or instant oats are good substitutes.
  • Sweetener: Pure maple syrup or honey can be used instead of molasses; however, this will make the loaf lighter in color.
  • Beer: Other dry stouts, such as Beamish, O’Hara’s, or Murphy’s, can be used. If needed, use a gluten-free Irish stout.

How to Make Irish Brown Bread

Step 1: Preheat the Oven

Set the temperature to 350ºF (177ºC). After making the bread batter, it should be hot and ready to bake. Line a metal 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper and create a sling to make removing the bread easier. Grease the inside of the pan and paper with cooking spray or a neutral oil.

Rolled oats, baking soda, salt, and whole wheat flour in a large blue bowl.

Step 2: Mix the Dry Ingredients

In a large bowl, mix the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. It’s important to disperse the fine particles evenly, which ensures a uniformly shaped loaf. Whole wheat flour and oats add extra fiber to each slice.

Cubes of cold butter added to a bowl of flour mixture.
Brown sugar added to the top of a bowl of flour.

Step 3: Incorporate the Butter and Sugar

Wheat flour can dry out the bread since the germ and bran are intact. Fat, like butter, is needed to ensure a tender load. Break the cubes of cold unsalted butter into the flour mixture; it should look like cornmeal. This is a similar process used in homemade biscuits to give a more interesting scone-like texture. Stir in the brown sugar.

Pouring a measuring cup with mixed wet ingredients into the bowl of flour.
Bowl of Irish brown bread batter.

Step 4: Add the Wet Ingredients

To make the brown bread moist and flavorful, I combine three liquid ingredients: buttermilk, molasses, and Guinness Irish dry stout. I whisk the ingredients together first, then stir them into the flour mixture until a thick batter forms.

Uncooked bread batter poured into a loaf pan and topped with rolled oats.
Freshly baked Irish brown bread cooling in a loaf pan.

Step 5: Bake the Bread

The bread batter will be very wet. Spread it evenly into the prepared loaf pan. I like to sprinkle rolled oats on top of the dough for a pretty presentation. Bake at 350ºF (177ºC) for about 50 minutes.

The bread is ready when the center reaches 190ºF (88ºC), signaling that the proteins in the flour are fully cooked. The texture will taste like wheat bread and banana bread. It’s soft and tender yet still chewy.

Irish brown bread with butter spread on one of the slices.

Step 6: Cool and Slice

Use the parchment paper overhang to remove the bread from the pan and transfer it to a wire rack. Allow it to cool slightly until warm or to room temperature before slicing to allow for carryover cooking. Serve warm with Irish butter spread, and it’s hard to resist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is brown bread healthier than white bread?

Brown bread with whole wheat flour contains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals since the germ and bran are left intact.

What is the difference between rye bread and brown bread?

Rye bread is made with rye flour, which gives it a unique, sour taste and a denser texture with a dark brown hue. It’s made using yeast-leavened dough. Irish brown bread is a quickbread that tends to be sweeter and moister. It has a brown shade from wheat flour and any added ingredients like molasses or beer.

How do you keep brown bread moist?

Let the bread cool completely, then tightly wrap it in foil and place it in a resealable plastic bag to prevent moisture loss. Slices can also be frozen and then toasted, giving them a tender texture when reheated.

How do you keep the bread tender?

This Irish brown bread recipe stays moist and tender for several days after baking. That’s because brown sugar and molasses are humectants that attract moisture from the environment. The oats and proteins in the flour also create a gel-like matrix when cooked, trapping water in the crumb. Slices can be enjoyed for up to 5 days when properly stored at room temperature.

Serve This With

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Irish Brown Bread

Ready for a taste of Ireland? This Irish Brown Bread is made with wholesome ingredients and pairs nicely with a slather of butter or a bowl of soup.
4.85 from 26 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time55 minutes
Total Time1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 10 Slices
Course Bread
Cuisine Irish

Ingredients 
 

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup Guinness stout
  • cup molasses

Instructions 

  • Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the middle position and the heat to 350ºF (177ºC). Line a 9×5" metal loaf pan with a 9" wide piece of parchment paper that overhangs about 1 inch. The sling will make handling the bread easier. Grease the bottoms and sides of the paper and pan with cooking spray.
  • Mix the Dry Ingredients – In a large bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour, oats, baking soda, and salt.
  • Incorporate the Butter – Using your fingers, break the butter into very small pieces until the flour mixture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the brown sugar. Make a well in the center of the bowl.
  • Add the Wet Ingredients – In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, Guinness, and molasses. Add the mixture to the center of the flour and stir until a batter forms. Do not overmix!
  • Bake – Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan, spreading it into an even layer. If desired, sprinkle oats on top. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 190ºF (88ºC) on an instant-read thermometer or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes.
  • Serve – Lift the loaf out of the pan and transfer it to a wire rack to cool. Slice and serve warm.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Molasses Substitute: Use maple syrup or honey. The bread will not be as dark brown in hue.
  • Substituting Guinness: Use all buttermilk (the bread won’t be as dark) or use root beer. 
  • Smaller Loaves: Bake two mini loaf pans (about 5 by 3 inches) on a baking sheet. Check at 35 minutes for doneness, adding more time as needed. Loaves are ready when they reach 190ºF (88ºC). 
  • Storing: Cool completely then wrap in foil and place in a plastic bag. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost the loaf before using it.
  • Reheating: Toast room temperature or frozen slices of bread.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 10 Slices
Calories 238kcal (12%)Carbohydrates 45g (15%)Protein 7g (14%)Fat 5g (8%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0.1gCholesterol 10mg (3%)Sodium 329mg (14%)Potassium 366mg (10%)Fiber 4g (16%)Sugar 16g (18%)Vitamin A 133IU (3%)Calcium 84mg (8%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Recipe Rating




22 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. phil milan says

    Hi Jessica you hit a homerun with this. First time I made this bread with Guinness Bread and it awesome. My wife actually loved it. Going to keep making it. So healthy and perfect for a meal.

    Thanks

    Phil

  2. Michele says

    I enjoy your recipes, especially since I have a food science, culinary and nutrition background. Just an FYI–I noticed baking powder in step 2 of the instructions rather than baking soda per the ingredients. I look forward to making this and am sure it will be excellent.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Michele- Wow, I love that we have similar education backgrounds! Where did you attend college? Thanks for the catch on the recipe, I’ve updated the ingredient. I can’t wait to hear what you think about the bread recipe!

      • Marisu Stier says

        Loved it shared with family next batch i would like to make a tad sweeter can i add more brown sugar

        • Jessica Gavin says

          Yes, you can add more brown sugar. However, just keep an eye on browning. Loosely tent the bread earlier if it’s darkening too quickly.

  3. Kathryn says

    Amazing—easy and delicious. I made a double batch and it tastes even better than the brown bread we had last week in Ireland!

  4. Mark says

    This recipe is exactly how my wife and I remember the Brown bread on a recent trip to Ireland. Can’t believe it isn’t popular here in America. Soda bread is completely different – dry and bland.

  5. Christine says

    I’d like to try this recipe, but would also like to reduce the added sugar content. Could mashed banana, an egg or Greek yoghurt be used to substitute the brown sugar, and perhaps some extra Guinness to substitute some of the molasses? Finishing up with just 1/4 cup of molasses? Any suggestions appreciated!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Christine- I think you could substitute equal parts of mashed banana for the brown sugar, or reduce it to 1-2 tablespoons for a less sweeter taste. I would keep the molasses for the color, moisture, and humectant properties. Let me know how it goes!

  6. Laura says

    Having just returned from a trip to Ireland. I sought endless recipes that could come close to what we had there. This is it!!!!!

  7. Cyndi says

    Question, the recipe list says baking soda but steps say baking powder, which one is it? I’m making it now and I’m going to go by the recipe list and hope I picked the correct one.

    • Lara says

      Same question! This seems to be a type of soda bread so I’m going with soda – hope I picked the right one too!

  8. Russ G says

    This is very good! Exceptional. I served it with blood orange marmalade and softened cream cheese. I used the extra buttermilk instead of the beer, but I stirred maybe 3/4 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet into the buttermilk. It was very brown bread! Next time I think I’ll substitute half a cup of dark brewed coffee for the beer.

  9. Patti says

    I made this bread today, absolutely delicious. It’s very easy to make and the result is so flavorful with a lovely texture. I will toast some up for a sandwich tomorrow. Thanks for the recipe!

  10. Patti says

    This bread looks so good! I’m going to try it very soon. Need to get some buttermilk. Is the buttermilk powder as good as the real thing? I assume I would mix it in liquid.