This past summer my beloved and I traveled to the west coast of Ireland. He searched for family while I sought great Irish food. Let’s begin with bread. Now I wouldn’t ever turn down excellent challah or a spectacular croissant. But I hold a special place in my heart for Irish brown bread. And after much investigation, I found the recipe that truly rocked my world. Authentic Guinness Irish brown bread that is simple to make and transports you, at least in spirit, to the Emerald Isle with every bite.
When I began looking for my ideal brown bread I had no idea that the secret ingredient would be Guinness. Or that I would get the recipe from a lovely French woman, in a sunny basement kitchen in a corner of western Ireland close to Tralee. But after embarking on the hunt, I had to leave preconceptions behind.
I knew the bread would have to be dark and rich. It would need to be moist. And while it would need to be healthy, it also needed to seem like a treat. Finally, it had to taste just right with that incomparable Irish butter, which I enjoyed far too much. I tasted the bread at every restaurant, pub, and B&B where we ate. It was tough work, but someone had to do it. I ate a fair amount of mediocre brown bread. But I never gave up hope. And then I was rewarded.
Where I found My Favorite Brown Bread
When we got to Barrow House, a B&B on what is called the “Wild Atlantic Way,” we found much to enjoy. Daragh, the owner and operator of the B&B, is a lovely woman.
The location and house itself are stunning. The west coast of Ireland is lush, with greenery most places you look. But it is really the raw, rocky shorelines that took my breath away.
The house itself is remarkable. And I didn’t just admire the decor in the gorgeous sitting rooms on the first floor, I read on the couch in the white room and checked out the comfy chair in the blue room, looking out over the shoreline. I even spent several hours working at a desk in one corner of the white room. My only regret was that I didn’t get to enjoy them for longer.
While our room was small, every detail was thoughtfully arranged. Plus, it had the sweetest little private terrace with a kumquat “tree” that made me smile every time I looked at it.
And the breakfasts! Ooh lala. They were the best that we had in Ireland and probably in years. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to take photos of the scrumptious spread, including the brown bread. But I did snap one of my omelet one morning, just before I demolished it.
The Chef, Catherine
Breakfast was in a comfortably crowded room. B&B guests expect to meet others at the communal meal, but one never knows whether encounters will be more than “please pass the butter.” In this case, we enjoyed a warm welcome from Daragh and lively conversation with other guests – the kind of B&B breakfast atmosphere you read about in guide books, but do not experience all that often.
After tasting the brown bread, I shyly asked Daragh whether I could have the recipe. She disappeared for a few minutes, while I wondered who the breadmaker was. She reappeared and led me into the sunny kitchen where I met Catherine Bellein.
Not only did Catherine give me the recipe for her Guinness Irish brown bread and allow me to blog about it, she explained how she makes it. When I got confused as to what an ingredient is, she stopped writing and grabbed it off the shelf. Black treacle for instance. Once I looked inside the tin and smelled the treacle, I realized it is like molasses.
I kept the scrap of paper she wrote on through the rest of our travels, with her references only to metric amounts of ingredients and Irish names for ingredients, such as “oat porridge” and “bread soda.” (Frankly, keeping track of that piece of paper required more focus than I could have imagined. As I lost t-shirts and toiletries in the chaos of my suitcase and purse, I always checked to make sure I had the recipe.) Then when I came home, I translated the measurements and “translated” the ingredients to American terms.
Authentic Guinness Irish Brown Bread
This bread uses baking soda for the rising agent rather than yeast, so it is really a type of soda bread. Like the Irish soda bread I’ve blogged about before, this one bears little relation to the Irish-American soda bread we enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day. But the buttermilk and white (or full) whole wheat flour, make Irish soda bread light compared to this one. With molasses and stout, Guinness brown bread is darkly colored, rich tasting, and craggy looking.
The recipe uses only 7 ingredients.
It comes together quickly too. Just mix dry ingredients, then add the wet ones and scoop into the loaf pan.
After about 50 minutes, the thick batter rises just a bit and becomes deep brown. I like to think of the crust as looking the the shoreline of the west coast of Ireland – untamed and inviting.
Authentic Guinness Irish Brown Bread
Rich and moist, this authentic Irish Guinness brown bread is simple. With lots of dark stout, it slices into a treat on its own or with a full meal.
- 4 cups whole wheat flour 450 g
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 cup rolled oats 50 g (See note)
- 1/4 cup demarra (turnbinado) sugar 62.5 g
- 3&1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 50 g
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 15.2 ounces Guinness stout beer 450 ml
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or oil the loaf pan.
Whisk the dry ingredients (whole wheat flour, baking soda, rolled oats, and sugar) together. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the butter and molasses. Add the Guinness.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold them gently together until well combined.
Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and smooth out the top. It will remain rough-looking, but make sure it is even in the loaf pan.
Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out of the bread clean. The internal temperature should be 200 degrees F. Let the bread cool in the pan before unmolding.
This bread tastes strongly of whole wheat. If you prefer more oats, add a full cup of oats and lower the flour to 3 & 1/2 cups.
Catherine says to add the butter and molasses into the Guinness, but I don't think it makes a difference whether you do it that way, or add the Guinness to the butter and molasses.