Brown Butter Soda Bread

I had planned to bring with me today an authentic Irish Soda Bread. I had done some research.  I could’ve told you that soda bread first appeared in Ireland in the 19th century, when baking soda was invented; that caraway seeds are strictly optional; that raisins make traditional Irish Soda Bread more Americanized; that sometimes, when raisins are added, the bread is called “Spotted Dog”; and that the cross you slash into the bread before baking is really less of a religious symbol than a handy outline for portioning the loaf once it’s baked.


But at some point, deep in my research, I came across Brown Butter Soda Bread. Now.  Brown butter can stop me in my tracks, but when I clicked the link and read the recipe—Rosemary! Black Pepper! Oats!—I remembered the complicated relationship I’d had with Irish Soda Bread as a child, loving the taste but also being just the tiniest bit disgusted by the combination of raisins and caraway. Maybe I overdid it one time and swore I would never eat Irish soda bread again or something; not that I remember anything like that ever happening…

dry ingredients

But I’m getting away with myself. I said Rosemary! Black Pepper! Oats! and left you in the lurch. I’m sorry. Back to the bread. It’s got the fluffy, moist, biscuit-like texture that soda bread is known for. It’s a snap to put together, like all soda breads. And, unlike the raisin and caraway version (which is more of a breakfast or tea bread), it can easily stand up to dinner.


The rosemary flavor is subtle, but the fragrance wafts from the loaf as you break it apart, inviting you—No, when you smell this rosemary, buttermilk scented bread, it demands you dig in; it holds you hostage, helpless, because it knows you have no power to resist.

Then there’s the black pepper. If you’re not a fan of the spice, you could always reduce the amount, or omit it altogether, and I think you’d still have a great bread; but to me, the black pepper is icing on the cake. A heaping spoonful to the dough, plus a sprinkling on top, provides heat throughout, allowing every bite a peppery pop. With the proper Irish “lashing” of good butter slathered onto each slice, it’s the perfect combination of rich and spicy.

I may make another soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day this year, one that’s more authentic, sans rosemary, oats, and pepper (though I’ll probably be the American that I am and add raisins), but this will be the soda bread that I continue to bake all year long. I’ll bet you do too.

brown butter soda bread

Rosemary Brown Butter Soda Bread

from Bon Appétit, February 2006

makes 2 loaves

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1 egg white, beaten to blend

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Baker’s Wisdom:
You’ll get the most tender soda bread by kneading the dough gently and briefly, just until it comes together, so the gluten is minimally developed.

Printable Recipe


I always admire those bloggers who give us two-part posts about foods. They show us something—a sauce, some ice cream—and tell us that it went so well with…something, but we’ll hear about that tomorrow. And then the next day, right on cue, we get the perfectly paired pasta, or chocolate cake. I really admire that.

For me, I can’t think that far ahead. I made that cherry jam the other day, ate a few spoonfuls, and then stuck it in the fridge door. I had made it because I was afraid my cherries would go bad, I didn’t have what to do with it in mind. And then I effectively forgot all about it.

Yesterday, for a completely unrelated reason, I went about making a seed bread. There’s a bread from Whole Foods that Jim and I buy weekly called “Seeduction” bread. Besides blushing whenever I have to order it from the nice, portly employee in the bread section, I’m beginning to hate buying this bread for the cost. It’s about 6 dollars for a medium sized loaf. What with my accident, and all the money I’ve been spending to get better lately, that’s a lot of money for a bread that usually goes stale before the two of us can finish it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s good bread—chewy, wholesome, very tasty—and I don’t mind paying for quality food. Well, at least I don’t mind paying for quality food that I otherwise don’t want to (or can’t) make myself. I’ll pay loads for a good chocolate or coffee, or cheese. But I don’t spend my money on chicken stocks, sauces, or prepared foods. I make these things myself, for a fraction of the price, and they taste better than store-bought.

That got me thinking—why not make my own “Seeduction” bread? Surely it’d be sexier for me, rather than that nice, portly gentleman, to present Jim with the “Seeduction.” But I’d always shied away from making my own whole-grain bread because of some gut-feeling that it couldn’t be done without a kitchen-aid mixer. I never, however, looked far enough to figure out the truth. Whole-grain breads are easily, wonderfully made in a food processor. The blade of the processor has enough “umpha” to work the dough, kneading it further than my puny arms could take. It takes all of a few minutes. The result is a hearty, soft in the middle, seed-riddled bread that could easily pass for an entire lunch-time meal. And, like icing on the cake, it is the perfect bread to slather cherry jam all over. The sweet, dark jam is a match made in paradise with the earthy bread. I wish I could take credit for planning that in advance. But I’ll settle for the happy surprise.

Seeduction Bread

makes 2 round loafs//adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup couscous or bulgur or cracked wheat
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
  • 1 cup cool water
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds

Pour lukewarm water into a 2-cup measure and sprinkle with yeast. Mix in honey and let sit for about 10 minutes, so it gets foamy.

Put flours, couscous and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine them. Pour the sunflower oil and cool water into the yeast mixture and then, while the processor is running, pour everything through the feed tube of your food processor lid in a slow and steady stream. Let it run until the dough stops sticking to the outside walls of the processor and forms a ball. Add a teaspoon or two of water if it’s not sticky enough to form the ball, or flour if it looks too wet. Let the processor run for another minute to knead the dough.

Remove the dough ball to a greased bowl and flip it once so all sides of the dough get a little greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot for 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough a few times and form into a large oval. Sprinkle with the seeds (reserving 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds) and fold in half. Knead the dough so that you distribute the seeds evenly. Divide the dough into two and form tight round balls. Coarsly chop the remaining pumpkin seeds and roll the tops of the dough balls in them. (You could substitute poppy seeds here.) Place on the baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake the breads on the center rack for 35 minutes, or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped. Cool before slicing.