Do you have a recipe you go back to time and again? Something that’s comforting to eat and satisfying to make? Since living here in Northern Ireland, I’ve always enjoyed Irish soda bread. It’s easily found in all bakeries, grocery, and convenience stores. It’s one of the main ingredients when you order an Ulster Fry at a restaurant for breakfast, too, of course. But nothing beats the smell, taste, and texture of fresh homemade Irish soda bread right off the griddle.
Over here, we simply refer to it as a soda farl or soda bread. “Farl” refers to a quarter of the entire bread, and is generally a serving size. There are all sorts of unique words over here with origins in Celtic language, Ulster-Scots, as well as regional words and accents. It makes for an interesting country!
I learned how to make Irish soda bread 3 years ago from Mary during a foraging event she hosted with her husband, Dermott. We’ve attended a few of their events since, and there’s always a new skill to be learned. Sadly, Mary passed away recently so we’ll be thinking of her each time we bake Irish soda bread. She was a talented woman who loved to pass on her knowledge and skills to anyone who was interested.
Irish Soda Bread Ingredients:
- 3 Cups self-raising soda-bread flour (or self-raising flour plus 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)
- 1 Cup buttermilk
- a pinch of salt
- sugar to taste (about a tablespoon or so)
- egg (optional) This gives extra richness, but it’s not necessary
1) Sift the flour and baking soda into a bowl
2) Add the slightly beaten egg (if you’re using it), buttermilk, salt and sugar to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together with a large fork until you get a sticky, yet reasonably firm mix. You can add more buttermilk or flour until you have the right mix. Try not to overdo the mixing or it may not rise well.
3) Turn out your mixture on to a floured board and gently flatten the dough out (you can just your hands for this rather than a rolling pin) to about 1.5 to 2cm. After making this recipe a couple of times you’ll find out what works best for you.
4) Cut your round into 4 quarters with a sharp knife, gently wiggling the knife back and forth to separate the pieces. If the farls don’t keep their shape, then your dough is too wet and needs a little more flour. In our case on this day we didn’t technically make ‘farls’ as we had 6 servings.
5) Put your farls onto a dry, fairly hot griddle or cast iron pan. Cook them for abut 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s time to turn them over when the top becomes a bit puffy, like a pregnant tummy. They should be lightly browned.
6) Cook them on the second side for about another 5 minutes (or less). Place them on their edges against the sides of the griddle/pan to make sure the edges are cooked. Turn them as needed until all 3 sides are done. (On this particular day these were baked in the oven at 180C, with about the same timings. You’ll know when they’re done if you tap one and it sounds hollow). When they’re done in the oven they tend to be a little crisper on the outsides than if they’re done on a griddle.
7) Take off and either leave them to cool, or eat immediately if you just can’t wait.
You can eat the Irish soda bread just as it is, or spread a little butter on them. If you have a sweet tooth, they’re irresistible with homemade jam (or any jam if you haven’t any homemade). And they make a most-satisfying sandwich as well.
As part of an Ulster Fry, they are sliced in half and toasted in the toaster like bread or fried with some butter in a frying pan and then served with potato bread, sausage, bacon, eggs, and grilled mushrooms and tomatoes. And yes, the Ulster Fry is also known locally as “heart attack on a plate.”
These soda farls can be frozen to enjoy in the future if you don’t finish them now (but really – they’re so delicious, certainly there won’t be a crumb left to save).