The Best Irish Brown Soda Bread Recipe

One of my recent visits to Ireland brought me to The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore and, oh my, they do good brown bread there.

Luckily, I found the recipe in The Cliff House Hotel Cookbook: Granny McGrath’s Brown Soda Bread.

Some of the ingredients were rather hard to find in the UK (I believe they are more readily available in Ireland) but I did succeed and found what I needed.

Blair Atholl Coarse Wholemeal Flour
Blair Atholl Watermill Coarse Wholemeal Flour

The recipe is fantastic. There is no doubt, this is the real deal.

Slice of Irish Brown Soda Bread
Look at that. What a beauty!

Granny McGrath’s Brown Soda Bread

Ingredients (for 1 loaf)

  • 350g coarse wholemeal flour
  • 150g fine wholemeal flour
  • 100g wheatgerm
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 100g bran
  • 1/4 tbsp salt
  • 3/4 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 735g buttermilk
Brown Soda Bread Flour Wheatgerm Bran
Brown Soda Bread Ingredients (from top left clockwise): Fine Wholemeal Flour, Coarse Wholemeal Flour, Wheatgerm, Bran

How to bake it

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C
  2. Grease a large baking tin
  3. Thoroughly combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
  4. Add the buttermilk and beaten eggs
  5. Mix (best to use your hands) to quickly combine all the ingredients. The dough will need only the minimum amount of handling. Kneading the dough is unnecessary and would in fact toughen the bread.
  6. Bake for 60 minutes
  7. Remove the bread from the tin and put back in upside down
  8. Bake for a further 10 minutes
  9. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack
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Baking Traditional ‘Real’ German Pumpernickel Bread

It’s hard to find a good recipe for traditional German Pumpernickel so I thought I would try and fill this gap! Here you’ll find a step-by-step guide to baking the real thing as well as some interesting Pumpernickel facts. Give it a go – you won’t be disappointed!

Pumpernickel Slice
Juicy slice of Pumpernickel

What is Real German Pumpernickel?

  • 100% rye bread (only whole rye grain and cracked rye is used for the dough, no milled flour – Pumpernickel has humble origins and for a long time it used to be peasant fare for people with no access to a proper mill)

  • Rich dark-brown colour, but no crust (it’s baked in fully covered baking tins)

  • A very heavy bread with a darkly sweet aroma and earthy in taste (rye has 7% natural fruit sugar, compared to wheat at 4%, which caramelises during the bake)

Pumpernickel Loaf

How to make traditional German Pumpernickel?

  • All you need is a rye sourdough starter, rye grains, cracked rye, salt, water and syrup.

  • No colouring agent such as caramel colour is added.

  • The characteristic dark colour is achieved through a very long baking period (about 14 hours in a low temperature of around 120°C) and caramelising fruit sugars.

  • In this process it’s important that the steam doesn’t escape – otherwise the bread will completely dehydrate during the long bake. The moisture can be retained by wrapping your baking tin with a few layers of tin foil. However, I invested in a Pullman Pan, a loaf tin with a lid that slides on top to keep the loaf entirely contained. I still wrap a layer of tin foil around to be doubly sure.
  • The bread should mature at least 24 hours before cutting to allow the crumb to fully develop (all-rye breads tend to otherwise gum up due to the high percentage of pentosans – read all about this and what makes rye different over here at Azélia’s Kitchen)

Is Pumpernickel healthy?

  • Yes, the starches of real Pumpernickel have undergone so much of a transformation that they are quite easily digested (source: “Bread” by Jeffrey Hamelman)

  • Whole-grain rye contains nearly 15% fibre

  • Pumpernickel also has a low glycemic index (less likely to increase in your blood sugar level)

Where to buy Pumpernickel ingredients?

  • Organic rye grains (also called rye berries or kernels) from health food stores like Real Foods

  • Organic cracked (or chopped) rye and rye flours directly from the mill e.g. Shipton Mill. While Shipton Mill produces coarse cracked rye, I like to mix this up with fine cracked rye by The Prior’s Flour

  • Both Real Foods and BakeryBits ship worldwide


Pumpernickel ingredients
Pumpernickel ingredients: fine and medium cracked rye and rye berries


Pumpernickel ingredients (for one loaf)

Preferment -

  • 50g rye sourdough starter, 350g cracked rye, 350g water

  • Combine in a bowl, cover and leave to ripen for 16 – 24 hours.

Scalded Rye Berry Soaker -

  • 200g rye berries, 200g boiling water

  • Pour the boiling water over the rye grains and leave overnight.

Cracked Rye Soaker -

  • 150g cracked rye, 150g water

  • Combine in a bowl, cover and leave overnight.

Additional dough ingredients -

  • 550g cracked rye

  • 150g water

  • 22g salt

  • 120g maple syrup (traditionally cane sugar syrup is used but I prefer maple syrup)

  • A little dark rye flour for dusting

How to make Pumpernickel bread

I’ve included example timings for a weekend bake – starting Saturday, completing the bake on Monday morning and enjoying Pumpernickel bread on Tuesday for breakfast…

Day 1 (Saturday noon/early afternoon)

  1. Prepare the preferment.

  2. Prepare the scalded rye.

  3. Prepare the rye soaker.

Day 2 (Sunday noon to Monday morning)

  • 12pm
    Add one litre of water to the scalded rye soaker, bring to a boil and simmer for approx. 1 hour until soft.

  • 1pm
    Strain the rye and discard any remaining water.
    In a bowl combine 700g of sourdough, the cooked rye berries, the cracked rye soaker, the 550g extra cracked rye and mix well.
    Add the water, salt, maple syrup and mix until the dough comes together well. The dough should not be wet, but slightly sticky. It should peel off the side of the bowl easily.

  • 1.30pm
    Sprinkle a little flour on top, cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
    Butter a large loaf tin and dust with rye flour.
    Place the dough into the baking tins.

  • 2pm
    Leave to prove for 3 hours.

  • 4.30pm
    Preheat the oven to 150°C.

  • 5pm
    Brush the top of the dough with a little water.
    Fully wrap the baking tin with two tight-fitting layers of tin foil to avoid the dough drying out during the long baking process.
    Place the wrapped tin at the bottom shelf of the oven and bake for approximately 14 hours (best done overnight).

  • 6pm
    Turn down the temperature to 120°C.

  • 7am
    After baking, turn off the oven and leave the baking tin in the cooling oven for another hour.

  • 8am
    Take the loaf out of the baking tin and wrap in a kitchen towel, baking paper or tin foil for another 24 hours.

Day 3 (Tuesday morning)

  • Cut into thin slices and enjoy with butter and jam or smoked fish for a hearty breakfast!


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