Ireland is renowned for its soda breads. These are the very simplest of doughs, requiring no kneading and no waiting for it to prove. From start to finish, freshly baked soda farls will take about 20 minutes. Like all the soda based breads they rely upon buttermilk’s chemical reaction with baking soda to provide the rise. It is a way of bread-making that became popular in Ireland due to the lack of a steady supply of yeast.
Buttermilk is frustratingly hard to find these days. Kitchens used to get it from the local dairies as a by-product of the cream being churned into butter. When industrialisation meant fewer local dairies it also resulted in less local buttermilk. Some of our supermarkets sell “cultured buttermilk”, which is normal milk with bacteria cultures added. A better approximation of the real thing can be achieved by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or white wine vinegar to 250ml of full-fat milk and leaving it for five minutes.
‘Farls’ means four parts. That is what you get here – a sort of savoury scone that’s divided into quarters. They are best eaten when still warm from the baking, split in half and slathered in butter. Or halved and fried in bacon fat until crispy on both sides for an Ulster Fry. This recipe makes four quarters, one of which is probably enough per person.
- 300g plain flour
- 1 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1tsp salt
- 230ml whole milk and a tbsp of lemon juice
1. Stir the lemon juice into the milk to create an approximation of buttermilk. If you happen to have proper buttermilk then use that instead (and skip the lemon).
2. Mix together the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Gradually pour in the milk but do not put it all in at once – you may not need it all. Use your hand like a claw to bring it into a dough. You only need enough milk to get to that point.
3. Put a large frying pan on the heat and dust some flour into it to help stop the farls sticking.
4. Lightly flour your worktop and then flatten out the dough with your hands to a circle approx 20cm wide. Cut into quarters and transfer those to the heated pan. Give them about 6 minutes each side, turning every few minutes to prevent any burning/sticking. Test with a skewer to make sure they’re cooked inside. A raw farl is no good at all.