An Improved Northern Irish Soda Farl

brodie self raising cake pastry flourThe title of this is a bit misleading; it would be difficult to improve upon the simplicity and taste of an Irish soda farl the way it’s been made for a couple of centuries a more.  Three or four simple ingredients, the right amount of heat, and you end up with a very tasty bread “cake” that is delicious hot off the griddle and slathered with melting butter.

However, as pointed out in this post, “The Trouble With Wheat,” North American wheat is not the same as Irish wheat. As a result, using all-purpose flour in North America will not provide you with a soda farl that is nearly the same as those you might find in Ireland, either in the south or North.

There is a way around this however, for those of us in North America who want to replicate the taste and texture as close as possible to the real thing. And that is instead of using All-Purpose Flour, use Cake and Pastry Flour. It is a bit more expensive but the end result is a better soda farl in North America.

In my original recipe for the Irish soda farl, here, it simply calls for flour.  Elsewhere, I’ve written about the improvement of using cake and pastry flour – however, I’ve been using something that is even an improvement upon that!

In Canada in many grocery stores, a brand of flour called “Brodie” is available that is a “Self Raising” cake and pastry flour. What this means is that it already has the salt and baking soda (or baking powder which contains baking soda) mixed in and pre-sifted.

For the person longing for a genuine Irish style soda farl, it means the only other ingredient you need is buttermilk. You don’t have to worry about sifting baking powder or soda and salt with your flour and it makes it that much easier to make the farls.

flour in mixing bowl

Self Raising Cake & Pastry Flour In Mixing Bowl

In fact, it is so easy that I do not even bother measuring the ingredients when I make soda farls with this flour! All I do is basically eye up the quantity of flour as I pour it into a mixing bowl, make a well in the flour, and pour in buttermilk and start mixing.  If I’ve not added enough buttermilk, I’ll splash a bit more in until the dough is the right consistency.  If I’ve added too much buttermilk (which is rare), all I have to do is sprinkle in flour into the dough until the correct consistency has been achieved.

It’s that easy that even my 11 year old son can do it and there is no need for measuring cups or measuring spoons.

However, if you insist on a recipe, it’s pretty close to:

  • 2 cups Self Raising Cake & Pastry Flour
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
Image

Pour Buttermilk Into “Well” Made In The Flour

But even this is a guideline. Sometimes, flour will be drier than at other times, and a bit more buttermilk will be needed. What is better than simply following a recipe is  getting to know the consistency of the dough that you like to make soda farls with.  Once you have that down, you’ll never need to measure ingredients as long as you are using self raising cake and pastry flour.

I do not know if Brodie XXX Self Raising Cake & Pastry flour is available outside of Canada, so what do you do if you don’t live there?

Simple – get Homepride Self Raising Flour From Amazon.  But this does not contain salt so you may want to consider adding some if you enjoy your soda farls a touch on the savoury side.

More Reading:

Northern Irish Soda Farls

The Trouble With Wheat

Currant Soda Farls

Currant Soda Farls

currant soda farlWhile my son really enjoys Irish soda farls, he absolutely loves and adores currant soda farls, sometimes also called scones. The other evening, he had a late activity, and I had him for a couple of days. When we arrived at my home, he told me he was starving, so I suggested to him that we could start dough for the loaf of bread he likes and also make up some currant farls.

He nodded his head up and down vigorously and we went at it together.  My son helped measure everything out although we made a mistake with the amount of water we added to the bread dough. More on that later.

After we finished preparing the bread dough, we started in on the currant scones with my son full of anticipation.  I have to say that my son is wonderful, and that he enjoys very much helping me and is interested in learning how to cook and bake. He’ll likely make a very good partner to someone someday!

As he sat at the table while the farls were cooking on the griddle, my son decided to have a bowl of our homemade yogurt.  And of course, that had no effect on his appetite for the farls, for when they were ready, he hungrily ate a couple of them, hot off the griddle with butter melting and the sounds of “mmmm” and “yum” that came out of his mouth between each bite were enough to make any cook happy!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups cake and pastry flour (although all purpose white also works)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Heaped teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 oz dried currants
  • 2 cups of buttermilk

Method:

farls on the griddle

Cooking On The Griddle

Preheat a flat griddle on the stove on medium low heat (closer to the medium setting though).

Mix the dry ingredients together very well in a medium size bowl. Make a well and add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Mix the dough well and moving quickly, put the dough on a bread board that has been dusted with flour. You will also want to make sure your own hands are dusted with flour as the dough will be quite sticky.

Shape the dough as you would for Irish soda farls, into a circle. With the amount of dough we had, we cut it into 8 pieces.

Fit as many pieces as you can on the griddle, and cook about ten minutes each side.

When they are ready, be sure to try them hot off the griddle, by splitting them and spreading butter. They really are that good, and are still delicious when they have cooled down on a cooling rack as well.

 

Irish Wheaten Bread

irish wheaten bread

Fresh Baked Irish Wheaten Right Out Of The Oven

One of my favorite things growing up was coming home from school and smelling the wheaten bread baking in the oven that my mother was making.  When she made wheaten, she frequently made soda bread at the same time and both were delicious. The problem was that my mom often made me wait for the bread to cool down before cutting a slice for me. However, when my father was home, he seemed to have more influence than I did, and as he enjoyed melting butter on warm wheaten and soda, he would convince her to let us have some of the warm stuff.

I continue to enjoy Irish wheaten and when an adult, had to learn how to make it myself if I wanted any.  My parents had moved and I couldn’t just show up anytime it was made in my parent’s house. So, I made sure to learn.

A note about this recipe: I am using Odlum’s Irish wheat for the whole wheat. It is a coarsely milled wheat, although you can use North American whole wheat flour and it will still turn out quite good;  not just quite the same. For more on why this is the case, please see my post on “The Trouble With Wheat.”

There are several ways one can make Irish wheaten. Often, some will bake it in a loaf tin. I prefer to do it the way my mom did, on a flat surface in the oven. I use a flat cast iron griddle to bake the bread.  It is a well seasoned griddle, so I don’t need to use any grease like shortening to prevent sticking. However, I do lightly dust the surface of the griddle with flour before putting the dough on it.

Because you will be using baking soda as the leavening agent, you need to work fairly quickly after you’ve added buttermilk to the flour mixture. There really is no kneading required once all the ingredients are mixed together. Simply just shape the dough into a circular shape. Some people once they have shaped the loaf will cut a “cross” into the top of the dough. For whatever reason, my mother never did that. Instead she cut the dough in half once it was shaped, and then each half faced each other on the griddle or bake sheet.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Pastry or Cake Flour (Or all purpose flour)
  • 2 3/4 Cups Odlum’s Course Wholemeal Flour (Or Wholewheat Flour)
  • 1 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 Teaspoons Sugar
  • 1/8 Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 2 Cups Buttermilk

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Shaped Irish Wheaten

Irish Wheaten Dough Shaped Into Circular Shape

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl very well. You need to remember that you want to ensure the baking soda is mixed well throughout the ingredients.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

Pour in the oil and buttermilk into the center of the ingredients.

Mix all of the ingredients to form a fairly wet dough. With some wheat flours, you may need to add more buttermilk.

Dust a bread board and your hands with flour and turn out the dough onto the board. Working quickly, form into a round shape and then cut into half so you end up with two separate bread doughs, each in the shape of a semi-circle. (As noted above, some people simply cut a cross in the top of the dough).

Place each on a flat griddle (a flat cookie sheet also works) after you have dusted with flour and put in the oven on a rack set in the middle.

Bake for about half an hour.

Remove the bread from the oven and put on a cooling rack. If you can’t resist, you can cut off a slice while it is hot however the bread may be a bit crumbly when it is hot. But, it is delicious with butter melting on it!

I also enjoy this bread with honey spread on it.

Irish wheaten on griddle

Wheaten Loaf On The Griddle Before Baked

Notes:

There are numerous variations on how to make this bread. This is just the way I do it. Some people will add an egg as an ingredient. I’ve never tried that. Some people don’t use vegetable oil, however I do as I find it helps to keep the bread from going stale. When I was younger, and there were five of us in the family eating it, there were never any worries about the bread going stale, but when you live on your own, it is something to consider. I can’t eat all of this myself within one day!

Some people will add a teaspoon or so of baking powder in addition to the baking soda, which will probably help the bread rise a bit more. If you would prefer that, feel free to try that yourself.

Some who bake Irish wheaten will also brush a small amount of buttermilk mixed with a teaspoon or so of sugar on top of their bread before they bake it. That is something I may try myself, but have never done.

If you make this, I’d appreciate knowing what you think of it! Another way you can enjoy it (as I do) is to fry slices of it along with your breakfast bacon, similar to what is done with Irish soda farls.

 

The Trouble With Wheat

Wheat does not always produce the same type of flour, the world around.  I provided a recipe for Northern Irish soda farls in this post, and want to provide a recipe shortly for Irish “wheaten bread,” a loaf of bread that is similarly leavened with baking soda reacting with buttermilk, but is baked in the oven and uses a whole wheat flour.

But first, we need to discuss flours. In the aforementioned soda farl recipe, I wrote that you could use all purpose white flour. And it does do the job not too badly. If you’re in North America however, you might want to consider a flour especially for cake and pastry making.  But you don’t really need to.

When it comes to the wheaten bread though, it will be tough to get the same flavor and texture using regular whole wheat flour that is available in North America. My mom, after we moved to Canada, would use the whole wheat that was easily found in the grocery store, but she would also mix it with something called “Graham Flour” which is no longer available for whatever reason. Adding graham flour gave the bread a much closer texture to what we would bake “back home.”

Perhaps you are wondering why this is? Well, North American wheat is generally a “hard” wheat whereas the wheat grown in Ireland is a “soft” wheat.  Soft wheat is lower in both gluten and protein and is easier to mill than hard wheat.  While lower in gluten and protein, it is higher in starch than hard wheat varieties.

If you are in North America and want to make Irish wheaten that is as close to that made in Northern and Republic of Ireland, you have a couple of choices. You could get a wholewheat flour made from a soft red wheat and this may be available at your supermarket if they carry the King Arthur brand of flours. If not, you can order it directly from their website:  King Arthur Soft Red Wheat Flour.

Your best bet though is to try to find a supplier of Odlums course wholemeal flour.  Odlums is the major supplier of flour throughout the island of Ireland, and it is milled from Irish wheat.  This is the exact same wheat flour that most people who make Irish wheaten bread in Ireland, would use. Thankfully, there is a specialty shop not far from me that imports Odlums flour products and I am able to get it that way, although it is not inexpensive.  If you’re interested though (I know they will ship across Canada, but not sure about into the US), you can try A Bit Of Home.

So now you know a little bit more about wheat flour and why your soda farls and wheaten bread might not be turning out exactly like the way it does in Ireland!

Northern Irish Soda Farls

soda farl

Soda Farl Hot Off The Griddle, Split Open & Melting Butter. Mmmm!

Originally I’m from Northern Ireland and one of my all time favorite Irish things to eat are soda farls. In Northern Ireland, they are quite often called soda bread, although here in North America, we think of soda bread as that which is baked in the oven. Soda farls on the other hand, are cooked on a flat smooth griddle on the stove.  The ingredients are simple and few and these traditionally would have been a quick way to make some food for visitors that would drop by unannounced (as is often the case) and hospitality along with a cup of tea would be offered.

And seldom is the offer refused as that would be seen as an insult to the hosts.

The term “farls” comes from the Ulster Scot word, fardel which means “a fourth” or “a quarter.”  When making farls, the dough is flattened into a circular shape and then cut into four pieces.

Although in North America, some have added ingredients to the traditional recipe, they are not really and truly genuine Northern Irish soda farls.  The majority of soda farls that are made in the north of Ireland just use the few simple ingredients below.  If making scones however, dried blackcurrants or raisins might be added but this is an exception more than it is the rule.

Instead of yeast, baking soda is used as the leavening agent. I prefer to use a flat round cast iron griddle for making farls, but a frying pan will also work.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of white flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Method:

Preheat flat griddle on stove top with medium-low heat.

In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking soda together.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.

Mix all the ingredients well, but work quickly as the baking soda is activated immediately with the acidity of the buttermilk.

Dust some flour on a wooden breadboard and your hands.  Move the dough from the bowl to the breadboard and flatten it and shape it to a circle, about 8″ in diameter. Cut the dough with a knife (a pizza cutter also works well) into quarters (you could also cut it into 8 parts).

Cook on the griddle, turning over the farls so that both sides are cooked for about 15 to 20 minutes. Your farls should rise while cooking, and you may need to “harn” them after they have cooked on both sides. Harning means to set them on the griddle, leaning against each other, so the edges also get cooked.

Soda farls taste fantastic right off the griddle, split in half and butter melting into them. You could also spread jam or honey on them as well.  In Northern Ireland (as well as my home here), they are also used as part of breakfast. The are cut in half and then fried in bacon fat until there is a crispness on both sides.

As I wrote above, they are not truly genuine soda farls when additional ingredients are added to the dough, but from time to time, I do like to add dried blackcurrants to mine, which then they would be called “tea scones.”  My ten year old son loves these. To make them, I add about 6 ounces of dried blackcurrants to the above recipe, adding them to the flour before the buttermilk is added.

Update

If you’re looking for a very easy recipe that involves virtually no measuring of ingredients, be sure to also see “An Improved Northern Irish Soda Farl.”