In my pantry there are superheroes. You know them: high-powered bread flour, versatile all-purpose, aromatic rye ... they deserve the capes, headlines, and accolades they receive. But there is an unsung hero, too. One that swoops in at just the right moment with bran-flecked beauty for biscuits, a soft touch for scones, and whole grain depth for soda bread. I’m talking about my favorite flour that nobody knows: Irish wholemeal.
What is Irish-style flour?
Our Irish-style flour, also known as Irish wholemeal, is a US-grown, bran-flecked, soft whole wheat flour, perfect for traditional Irish baked goods (and much, much more). Similar to whole wheat pastry flour, Irish wholemeal contains all of the bran, endosperm, and germ of the wheat berry. But it’s more coarsely ground, with large flecks of bran that bring texture, beauty, and flavor to everything it touches.
Irish wholemeal flour is milled from lower protein soft winter wheat and contains less of the strength-forming elasticity found in all-purpose flour, bread flour, and other wheat flours (which are made with higher protein hard winter wheat). Elasticity — the rubber band strength in dough that enables kneading, helps pizza stretch thinly, and keeps our pita popping — is key for some things (achieving the open structure of hearth breads, for one). But we don’t need much of it for the tender, cakey qualities we want in scones, biscuits, and soda bread — which, of course, are the baked goods where Irish wholemeal really shines.
How to bake with Irish-style flour
If you’re experimenting with Irish-style flour for the first time, our Irish Soda Bread is a great place to start. Soda bread — with its fine-textured crumb, crispy, biscuity crust, and wheat-y flavor — showcases the wonderful characteristics of Irish-style flour, leveraging every bit of its yielding crumb and flavorful flecks of bran. In our recipe we’ve added a little bread flour for a slightly taller and lighter version of soda bread; sliced and slathered with plenty of butter, it might be the cheapest ticket you can find to the Emerald Isle. Or, to mix things up, we have heartier versions of the classic: our Rye Soda Bread adds whole rye flour and maple syrup or, for a loaf with sourdough starter, our Seeded Sourdough Soda Bread will keep you energized well beyond breakfast.
But Irish wholemeal isn’t only good for soda bread — our Tea Brack is also a great bake. With brewed black tea for moisture and a blend of dried fruits for natural sweetness and complexity, the tea brack, a dark whole grain breakfast cake, is perfect when prepared with Irish wholemeal flour. With its signature softness and depth of flavor, the flour brings just enough body to match the dark flavors of this loaf.
Or maybe something sweeter is your pot of gold — our Irish Cream Scones with butterscotch chips and Irish cream liqueur glaze are sure to sweeten even the grayest early spring afternoon. Here, as with the tea brack, we’re leveraging the soft texture and nuanced flavor of whole grains. And you can keep the Irish party going well into the evening with a side of Whole Grain Dinner Rolls joining a pot of potato soup. The Irish-style flour, when paired with a little all-purpose flour for strength, is the perfect ingredient for richly flavored rolls.
And what about recipes that don’t specifically call for Irish wholemeal? From banana bread to burger buns and even baguettes, you can swap in a portion of Irish-style flour to bring depth of flavor and color to more neutral recipes. For a good starting point, look for recipes that already include some whole wheat flour and start there. Then, branching out, look for places where the tenderness and flavor of some whole grain would be a good match. Knowing that wholemeal is a “soft” flour, it’s a good idea to keep the quantities low (swapping out about 20% to 25% of the recipe’s flour for the Irish-style flour, by weight) to ensure that yeasted breads still have the strength they need to rise and quick breads don’t sink while baking.
Whether you’re making a classic Irish Soda Bread, looking for new favorites like Tea Brack, or improvising with exciting substitutions, give this Irish wholemeal a shot. You may find yourself with a new hero in the pantry.
Cover photo (Irish Soda Bread) and food styling by Liz Neily.