Darina Allen’s Brown Soda Bread

I was inspired by Kate the Bake to make French Onion Soup yesterday for our tea, but you can’t have soup without bread and I didn’t feel like trekking through the snow to the bakery.  Our very good neighbour, Dr. Bob, kindly bought me a brilliant book for Christmas, which I spent many hours over the holiday devouring – Darina Allen’s (2009) Forgotten Skills of Cooking (Kyle Cathie Limited).  I thoroughly recommend that you get yourself down to the bookshop or online immediately and get yourself a copy.   It has over 700 recipes covering all the basics and traditional recipes (stuffed goose neck anyone?) and it has sections on foraging,  keeping chickens, butchering, growing your own veg etc.  It’s a wonderful compendium which will be keeping me busy in the kitchen for years to come (so, thanks Dr Bob).

Anyway, to get back to the point, Darina has a recipe  for Beginner’s Brown Soda Bread and I have never made soda bread before so it sounded perfect.  It can also be prepared and baked in 1½ hours, so if you are a bit short of time and you need your bread quickly this is perfect.

I was very pleased with the results, the loaf rose beautifully with the soda and the crust was particularly delicious.  I was particularly pleased when my daughter came home from school and said “Oh wow, a homemade loaf, I love homemade bread” and asked for a slice with butter and Marmite.  That made me feel very glad I hadn’t trekked to the bakery.

If like me you haven’t made soda bread before I urge you to try it.

I didn’t have any buttermilk in the house so I took Darina’s advice and added two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to 600ml (1 pint) of milk instead. The dough is extremely sticky but don’t be concerned by this as it is supposed to be like this, and if yours isn’t then you will need to add more liquid.

400g (14oz) wholemeal flour
75g (3oz) plain white flour, (Darina specifies unbleached if you can get it)
1 tsp salt, (Darina specifies dairy salt, which is finer and purer than normal salt, but I only have sea salt in the house so I used that)
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda, sieved
1 egg
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 teaspoon honey ( or treacle or soft brown sugar)
425ml (¾ pint) buttermilk  (or add 2 tbsp of lemon juice to 600 ml (1 pint) milk)


Grease a loaf tin with vegetable oil. Preheat the oven to 200°c (gas mark 6).

Put the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and mix well.  Make a well in the centre ready for the wet ingredients.

Whisk the egg and add it to the oil, honey (or treacle or sugar), and the buttermilk (or lemon juice/milk mixture).  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and using your clean hands mix well.  The dough should be very sticky, Darina describes it as ‘soft and slightly sloppy’, if it’s not add more buttermilk. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about 1 hour.  To test take it out of its tin and tap the bottom, if it’s cooked it will sound hollow.

Allow to cool before eating if you can manage it.

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20 thoughts on “Darina Allen’s Brown Soda Bread”

  1. We made french baguettes from a recipe out of Joy of Cooking yesterday. We didn’t get the browning we had hoped for on the crust, but it was crunchy and the crumb…perfect. Total rising time was less than 4 hours. Highly recommend. We were quite amazed by the results. Baking bread at home sure beats running out to the shops.

  2. What an interesting post and great to hear you too are baking bread. I haven’t ever made soda bread but it looks and sounds delicious.

    What is dairy salt???

    Darina Allen’s book sounds like a must have, although being a vegetarian I’ll pass on the goose necks.

    1. What, you don’t fancy giving up vegetarianism for some stuffed goose necks?! I made some more soda bread today and as I write this I can smell it in all its deliciousness and it’s tempting me to have yet another slice. I didn’t know what dairy salt was either so I googled it and found out that it is purified salt that they use for making butter (apparently).

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  5. Oh thanks Kath. Because of you I have now made my first Irish Soda Bread. Had family coming for lunch today and I thought giving them our rye sourdough to have with soup was a bit hardcore, so it seemed like a good opportunity to try this. I actually used Rachel Allen’s recipe for Brown Soda bread as I could access it easily in the kitchen, but I made it totally because of you. And very nice it was too – much appreciated by all and very easy to make. I guess Rachel is a relative of Darina’s anyway as they are both at the same cookery school? I had a look at Darina’s book in Waterstones a couple of week’s ago and it does look very good. I like the fact it talked about winkles and how to cook them – who do you hear mentioning those these days?

    1. I am really, really pleased about this. I was surprised at how fast and delicious it is too. Rachel Allen is Darina’s daughter-in-law, and it’s a very similar recipe. Did you use spelt flour? I was reading about sourdough starter this morning and thought I must ask you how you are getting on with yours? Does it take a bit of a commitment to keep the starter going and then planning to get the sponge sorted the night before, or are you into a pattern with it now. I am seriously tempted, but not sure if I could keep it going. In the Daniel Steven’s book he mentions a starter that has been going for 30 years! If you are thinking about buying Darina’s book and I thoroughly recommend it as it is one that you want to take to read in bed, then I noticed the Book People are selling it at a much reduced price.

  6. Thanks Kath, that’s sorted the Allen mystery out. I actually used 1/2 white spelt and 1/2 wholemeal (non spelt). I’m sure it would have worked just as well with wholemeal spelt too, just didn’t have enough of it to hand.

    I’m really pleased with our sourdough and I’ve got it well in hand now – making a batch every week. My starter has been going for well over 25 years (at least the bit that was passed on to me from Andrew Whitley (via Russia)). It’s a really active one so easy to keep going and the bread rises really well. I started by making the sponge the night before, but as it’s so active I can do it all in the same day now. I make the sponge, leave it for 3 hours or so. Make the bread and leave to rise for about 7 / 8 hours then bake. The starter should keep in the fridge for a few weeks or even months and still be viable. If you ever want a rye sourdough, let me know and I will try and send you some.

    1. Oh my goodness, you must have some of that 30 year old starter that I was talking about as this one was originally from Russia, and that is too much of a coincidence. I think that’s fantastic, it’s spreading far and wide. Thank you for the very kind offer of sharing your starter with me, that would be fab. I think I need to build my confidence with the bread making for a while. I am definitely improving and Mr OC thinks all other bread is inferior which I am very pleased about.

  7. Best, best brown soda bread ever! And believe me, I’ve eaten a lot of them – this one is the quickest and easiest to make and has the best flavour – the egg and brown sugar help with that!

    If you have never made brown soda bread before, give this a try, you won’t be sorry 🙂

  8. Alisha Murphy

    ive been making this recipe for months and it always come out prefect. however, i recently moved house and have a new oven. but when i make the bread, it seems to rise immediately, and after one hour in the oven the inside hasnt cooked. the oven in my old house was an old traditional oven, and in my new oven the oven has a traditional oven setting which i use. should i still be baking the bread for 1 hour at 200 degrees celcius??

    1. Hi Alisha,
      This is a tough one to answer. The problem is that ovens can differ so much. If you now have a new oven the chances are it is fan assisted which cooks things quicker than a conventional oven and so you don’t need the temperature as high in a fan assisted oven as you do in a conventional. I think the best thing to do would be to buy an oven thermometer. They are fairly cheap and if you live in the UK you can get them from Lakeland. This will give you an idea about how hot your oven is actually getting. In the meantime, a bit of trial and error is probably required and if I were you I would try to cook a loaf at 180 degrees celcius and maybe give it an extra fifteen minutes. This should avoid burning the outside whilst the inside cooks. If you take the loaf out of the oven and carefully out of its tin (protecting your hands with oven gloves) and tap the base it should sound hollow when it is cooked. If it doesn’t then put it back in for another five to ten minutes, then test again.
      I hope this advice helps and you get back to that perfect loaf soon.

  9. This was not my first attempt at making soda bread, though first attempt making this one in France…it turned out beautifully, though will use a larger loaf tin next time – 45 minutes at 200°c in fan assisted ovef did it justice – nice crust and yet moist inside as expected. I replaced 200 grams of wholemeal flour with multi-grain flour ( for the Odlums experience !!)
    I’m making another 4 loafs tomorrow for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in our village bar ( served with homemade Irish Stew). Will try substituting some of the miquid with Guiness both for the day that’s in it and for the colour…Thank you to ” TheOrdinary Cook” website 🙂

  10. Am in Singapore visiting and just baked the brown soda bread used honey instead of sugar and put some sultanas in as we’ll. came out lovely reminds me of home

    1. Hi Myra, Some tins do this for me too. I would recommend free forming your loaf. So, not using a tin. Use a piece of baking parchment on a baking sheet instead and shape your loaf into a round. It is easier to shape this loaf with slightly wet hands. Place it on the parchment. Then using a sharp knife cut a large cross in the top of the loaf. Then bake. Let me know how you get on.

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