Darina’s Brown Bread for Beginners

Although not quite through its first quarter, 2011 has seen me conquer some of my Baking Fears.  As I’ve said many times, I’ve discovered that the secret ingredient in cooking is confidence.  I’ve been slowly building my baking confidence with reliable recipes, like Nessa’s Family Kitchen scones, or Darina Allen’s brown bread for beginners.

Darina’s Brown Bread for Beginners recipe, from her ah-mazing book Forgotten Skills of Cooking, is fool proof.  And I should know, because I am a fool when it comes to baking.  And a few other things, probably.  I’ve followed this recipe and made about 8 batches of this bread in the last six months.  It was, in fact, the recipe I used when I attempted my very own first batch of homemade bread last year.  What’s great about brown bread is that there’s no faffing around with yeast and no kneading, no fear of Hot Hands Syndrome putting all your hard work to waste by ruining the bread at the last minute.  None of that.  It’s so simple.

Curiously, every time I make it, it’s a bit different.  Not in a bad way, just…different.  I don’t change any of the ingredients.  I don’t even change the brand of the flour.  Yet, I’ll notice that the dough is either more wet or the final bread is more spongy.  Baking is so WEIRD.  Like, WTF?!

Of all the various ways this bread has turned out, it’s always been pretty delicious.  So, if you’re a baking novice like myself, get stuck in.  And have your jam of choice ready.

*UPDATE 9/11/2011 I have been using this recipe since I posted it last March. I have found that in my oven different temperature settings than those stated below makes for a better loaf of bread. I use the same ingredients and measurements but I cook the bread for 45 to 50 minutes at 160 C in my Fires-of-Hell-Hot fan oven. Baking success can sometimes depend on how well you know your oven, so maybe take it out for dinner or even just ask it some personal questions.

I’ve left the recipe in its original Darina form below but you may find that a bit of trial and error is needed for you to achieve your perfect loaf in your personal oven.

What you need for Darina Allen’s Brown Bread for Beginners (makes 1 loaf)

400g stone-ground wholemeal flour

75g plain white flour

1 teaspoon of salt

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (aka bread soda or baking soda)

1 organic egg

1 tablespoon of sunflower or olive oil

1 teaspoon of honey

425ml of butter milk

2 generous tablespoons of seed mix – I use Good 4 U Sunflower mix which you can get in loads of supermarkets.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C / 180 degrees C fan / gas mark 6.

Put all your dry ingredients – wholemeal flour, plain flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt – into a large mixing bowl.  Mix together.

Mix your buttermilk, egg, honey and oil in another bowl until well blended.

Get a loaf tin (23 x 12.5 x 5cm) and pour a teapoon of oil into it.  With your hands, make sure all of the inside of the tin is coated with the oil, to prevent the bread from sticking.

Now make a well in your dry ingredients.  Pour about a third of your milk mixture into the well.  Mix the mixture with your hand until it begins to get sticky.  Don’t mix it too much though, it will go a bit tough in the end if you do.  Add another third of the milk mixture and mix again.  Finally add the last third and mix.

The dough is supposed to be wet and sticky, so much so that you can pour it into the loaf tin.  As I said above, I’ve had varying degrees of wetness in the dough without changing anything obvious.  And all of the loaves have worked out really nicely, they’ve just all tasted a bit different.  So, there’s no need to panic at this stage.  Just go with what you have and it’s very, very likely to turn out really well.

Once your mixture is in the oiled loaf tin, pop it in the oven on the middle shelf for between 45 minutes and one hour.  I like to sprinkle seeds on top, but they do tend to get a little burnt.  I think I need to maybe coat them in a bit of oil first to stop them burning?  Any tips?

Once your bread is nice and brown, and sounds hollow when tapped, leave it to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

So that’s it. Please do give it a go and report back!


My favourite new artist of 2010 was without a doubt Computer Magic, otherwise known as Danz and sometimes known as Danielle Johnson.  She’s Brooklyn based and so far has only released stuff for free via her website, but she’s releasing her first 12 inch in the US this month and I am going to order it asap!  Exireh.  Have a listen to her track Found Out by following the link below.

Found Out by Computer Magic (on The Hype Machine)

Categories: Baking


  1. Yay for enjoying baking! I have a feeling of awe every time a pile of flour, butter and sugar turns into something amazing. Not sure what to do about the seeds burning. Mine burn a little too, but the recipe I use only requires 40 mins in the oven, so they are still fine and edible.

    • It IS amazing! It’s actually magic. The ones above are edible but definitely a little too toasted.

  2. soak the seeds in a little water before you use them! Same goes for raisins in scones…avoids the burny bits on the outside! Granny’s little secrets. :)

    • Great tip, Hilary! Thanks so much for the comment :)

      • love this recipe. its the perfect brown bread. i’m having it again for our tea perfect with some baked cold ham, cheddar cheese and some homemade relish!! i love it. thanks so much for the recipe. only found it last week n have made it twice already!!

  3. It looks fabulous. A different twist on soda bread. I am going to make this.

  4. This looks amazing. I will definitely be making it this weekend.
    Question, though – do you know what the American equivalent of stoneground wholemeal flour would be? Is it just regular old whole wheat flour?

    • Hi Tara, I’m afraid I don’t know actually but I will find out for you! Thanks for commenting on the blog :)

  5. Love that Darina Allen, book there’s so many useful things in it; the no knead brown bread recipe in it is also great. Also, the reason the bread is different everytime even though you use the same brand of flour is probably down to the age of the flour, the fresher it is the less water it needs.

    • Hi Stef, such a great book isn’t it? That’s interesting about the flour, makes sense actually. Baking is so weird! Thanks for visiting the blog!

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  7. Have developed a soda bread addiction.. I think I need to switch it up so this looks good. That book is my favourite cookbook at the minute, it just has everything. I could read it for days on end without stopping.

    • Such a good recipe, this one. Just put it all together in a bowl and throw it in the loaf tin, then into the oven. Bada boom bada bing!

  8. Did I somehow miss the step slather liberally with butter? Looks delicious, tempted to try it myself, who is famous for making wonderful smelling lead bricks… but the words novice baker give me hope

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  10. Aoife, I made this over the weekend and was astounded with the results! Given that I am the baking novice to beat all baking novices, I was speechless when I pulled a delicious, moist and all-round perfect loaf out of the oven. Kudos for flagging this scrummy and foolproof recipe- and soaking the seeds did indeed stop ‘em from burning up!

    • Hi Paula – I know exactly how you feel! I was amazed myself the first time I made this bread and it actually worked. So glad the recipe went well for you. Thanks for visiting the blog!

  11. Aoife I made this yesterday. I have the book but I hadn’t made anything from it.. It was a lovely loaf. It’s so odd as it’s not that different from the wheaten bread I normally make but much wetter. It was perfect.

    Thanks to Hilary about the tip for soaking the seeds. It worked a treat :)

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  13. Hi All,
    I just made my very first brown bread loaf, it was as easy as Darina promised.
    I am quite pleased with myself, it was nice and moist and lovely with a bit of jam.
    I am now looking forward to improving on my new found skills.


    • Just made it! Tastes awesome!!Two thngis firstly, how do I know its done properly? It was browned on top (see pic on fb) but possibly a little too moist in the centre. I baked it for 45min Secondly, how the hell do you get it out the pan??? LOL I ended up serving it in the 8 haha

      • I always line the tin and then it is easy to pop out. I reckon 45 minutes is not enough , more like 60 mins and to know it is cooked through, insert a metal sqwere(can’t spell that word today!) and when it comes out clean the bread is cooked.
        Et viola you will wrap it straight away in a linen cloth or large napkin. Will keep it very fresh and usable for at least 4 days!
        Perfect that now so as you will have truly scrumptious bread for Christmas

  14. HI,
    i am a novice at cooking and when I tried this recipe I was delighted at how things turned out – very tasty. But recently I have encountered a couple of problems, the main one is that the last few I have made have resulted in very ‘crumbly’ bread – where when I slice it it knida falls apart, even though it still tastes great. Also the top of the loaf rises significantly where the top breaks open….. help !!!!

    • Hi Rory, thanks for your comment. I’m still working on getting the perfect consistency for the brown bread! I can definitely help you with the crumbliness though. The trick to that is to leave the bread until it’s pretty much fully-cooled before you slice it. If you slice it straight out of the oven it will fall apart. Another trick is to cover it with a clean, damp dishcloth while it cools as that gives it a lovely crusty crust!

      Hope that helps, let me know how you get on :)

      • Aoife,
        Thanks for your note. I have worked out the problems. Firstly: I used to pour all the liqiud ingredients into the mix in the one go, and now slowly mix it in bit by bit. Secondly after 10 minutes in the oven I put a cut in the bread from end to which means it rises correctly. Lastly I tried the damp cloth, and with all of these amendmentsI now have consistently super bread!

  15. Great recipe it was delicious! I found it a little bit salty though so I’ll reduce the salt a little next time . If I wanted to add some oats to the recipe how would I adjust it?

    • Hmmm…that is a good question! Let me ask some of my baking buddies and I’ll get back to you :)

      • Some of the bakers may disagree but to add more oats I would reduce the amount of wholemeal flour but don’t add more than 100G -> you still need 300g of wholemeal for the recipe to work. I’d also put oats on top. I hope that works for you.

  16. Hi!haven t done it yet,can i use a substitute for buttermilk,I don t know where to get some

    • I sometimes mix half milk half natural yogurt

      • Another good substitute is actually regular milk with a squeeze of lemon juice in it. Just about a tablespoon does it. Totally works!

  17. Hi Cait – here is a Richard Corrigan recipe that uses jumbo oats, hope that helps! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/3445940/Richard-Corrigan-recipe-soda-bread.html

  18. That was the wonderful brown bread recipe I’ve been searching for and so easy to make as well. I used sunflower seeds with chopped almonds, brazils and walnuts on top and tossing them in a little olive oil before the oven definately prevents them from burning. Also I don’t like honey so I never have it in my cupboards so I replaced the honey with a nice dash of maple syrup which was yummy and the proof is in the eating … my lovely loaf of bread didn’t last beyond dinner time the day I made it so next time I will make it in secret and keep it all for myself :)

  19. Really fantastic recipe! I am addicted to soda bread and usually had to wait until I returned home to feed my addiction. I have tried many times over the years to make it myself but ended up with the same result as a previous contributor, nice smelling building material! I was convinced that Belgian flour was different. Then I tried this recipe and now bake the bread a couple of times a week. My wife and kids love it. Friends are also delighted to get a freshly baked beautiful loaf (at least that’s what they tell me). Superb, great, thanks…..

  20. Hi,

    Re burning the seeds, I discovered quite by accident, that if you bake this bread at 180′ rather than 200′ you have truly scrumptious bread with beautiful lightly toasted seeds which also stay put, when you cut a slice off the loaf. You do need to bake it a little longer but not too long maybe 5/10mins.
    Anyway I love this bread we are all big fans in our place.

  21. This posting Darina’s Brown Bread for Beginners – I Can Has Cook? – Irish Food Blogger, has got really wonderful advice and I actually figured out specifically what I was initially researching for. I Appreciate it.

  22. Just made a double quantity of your brown bread for the first time ever it’s absolutely delicious so soft & healthy.

  23. Hi!
    I tried your receipe today and what can I say – only one half slice left over :-)
    The only thing: I had to use almost fine flour instead of wholemeal, ’cause the supermarket was out of wholemeal, and swapped the 70g fine flower for oatmeal – worked out fine though and might make another one for tomorrow :-)
    And I took the liberty to link you on Facebook and on my blog, to make sure where I got the receipe from ;-) hope you don’t mind….

  24. Has anyone used a glass baking pan and then adjusted the temperature down?
    I am struggling with bread that crumbles. My recipe is similar to the one stated above. I think the answer is in the baking.

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