In Search of Irish Brown Bread

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Maybe you’re not into bread baking in the heat of summer. In San Francisco, our weather has been in the low 60s most days, so it’s not insane to fire up the oven.

Having returned from Ireland last month, I’ve been struggling with brown bread bread withdrawal. This iconic Irish bread seems to be served everywhere in the Emerald Isle, and it’s consistently good—moist, dense and delicious, without a hint of bitterness.

The brown bread recipe below comes from Ireland’s celebrity chef and TV cooking star Neven Maguire, chef-owner of the MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion. County Cavan.

I’ve known Neven through the years, having worked on a few projects together in New York City for my then client, Kerrygold. I’ve always admired his cooking so Steve and I planned our vacation around being able to secure a reservation at his renowned fine dining establishment, which normally books reservations six months in advance.

Warm and gracious, this Irish culinary rock star has turned the small village where he grew up into a dining destination. You experience the impeccable service beginning in the lounge, where sitting comfortably with a drink, you’re presented with Neven’s Signature Tasting Menu to make your dinner selections before entering the dining room.

Everything sounded so delectable, it was a challenge to choose from course to course. Smoked breast of barbecued Thornhill duck with confit leg and foie gras, or seared breast of quail with spring roll and quail lollipop? Parma-wrapped rare breed pork served with caramelized cheek and belly, or fillet of dry aged beef and oxtail gel?

You can imagine the difficulty.

Steve and I negotiated the menu by having one of each and sharing our plates, to taste the widest number of dishes.

Having booked a room at MacNean House, after our brilliant, marathon dinner, we retired to a guest bedroom upstairs, only to awake the next morning to more glorious food—a perfectly sumptuous breakfast buffet of pastries, parfaits, cold meats and cheeses, fruit salad and more, along with such made-to-order specialties as eggs benedict, served with Ireland’s famous smoked salmon.

The recipe below is similar to the MacNean Wheaten Bread available at breakfast and featured in the restaurant brochure, a memento each guest receives at checkout, along with a copy of the menu. Please see my baking notes following the recipe.

Neven Maguire’s Multi Seed Wheaten Bread

Rapeseed or sunflower oil, for greasing
1 pound (about 4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 pound (about 3 2/3 cups) coarse wholemeal flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
4 ounces wheat bran
4 ounces mixed seeds, such as linseed, sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
1 3/4 pints (3 ½ cups) buttermilk, plus a little extra if necessary

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease two (4-cup) loaf pans. Sift together the flours, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Add the bran left in the sieve, the wheat bran and all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds (reserve them for the topping) and stir to combine. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until evenly dispersed.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the golden syrup, brown sugar and buttermilk. Using a large spoon, mix gently and quickly until you have achieved a nice, fairly wet consistency being careful to incorporate any pockets of flour.

Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared loaf pans, spreading it evenly and smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the reserved tablespoon of the seeds. Bake for about 1 hour or until well risen and cracked on the top and when a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the center.

To check that the loaves are properly cooked, tip each one out of the pan and tap the base. It should sound hollow. Cool in the pans for about 5 minutes before tipping out onto a wire rack to cool completely. To serve, place the brown wheaten bread on a bread board and cut into slices at the table. Pass additional butter for spreading. Makes 2 loaves.


  • Irish flours are different from American flours and you can buy Irish flours online. However, I used unbleached all-purpose flour and for the wholemeal flour, I used Bob’s Red Mill 100% stone ground whole wheat flour. While I couldn’t taste the bread side by side against the authentic Irish version, the taste and texture seemed as good.
  • Instead of 4 ounces of wheat bran, I used 2 ounces ground flaxseed (1/2 cup).
  • If you don’t have a scale, here are measurements for the amount of mixed seeds I used, to give you some guidance: I used ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons sunflower seeds, ¼ cup pumpkin seeds and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, which weighed 3 ½ ounces total.
  • I added 1½ tablespoons of rolled oats to the reserved seeds to sprinkle on top of the bread before baking.
  • This bread should stay fresh and moist for two days, after which it will dry out and at that point, is best toasted. Use the bread for open-faced sandwiches or slather with butter and jam for breakfast. (Of course, I used Kerrygold pure Irish butter.)

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Posted: Jun 19th by Sandy_Hu