Marie has been an online freelance writer for over eight years. She has a particular interest in culture, history, and food.
In the north of Ireland, soda farls are the Irish soda bread. My grandmother spent the seventy years of her adult life cooking this wonderful bread on an old-fashioned griddle, before serving it up still warm, butter melting slowly over the top. I've put down her recipe here, and also a couple of secret reasons why no one's soda bread tasted quite like my grandmother's soda bread.
My Grandmother was a remarkable woman; she raised a family of twelve children and ten stepchildren making them fresh soda farls every day for their evening meal. Even after they had all left home she continued making soda bread every day. Her kitchen was always filled with the warm, floury smell of freshly-griddled farls. Eaten still warm, with melting butter and a little home-made jam they were simply delicious. For anyone who has never tried an Irish soda farl I cannot recommend them too highly—they are a soft, dense bread, very satisfying, and they can be enjoyed savoury in a cooked breakfast or sweetened with clotted cream and jam.
My Grandmother's Recipe:
To make the soda farls mix the following ingredients in a bowl:
- 8 oz Plain white flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Enough buttermilk to make the dough into a thick, knead-able constistency.
Start with just large splash of buttermilk and when the dough is of a thick, workable consistency it is ready to be cooked. It should be like very thick bread dough, not at all runny like pancake mix.
Meanwhile warm your griddle in preparation. (If you don't have a griddle, a wide flat fyring pan will do). Dust the griddle with a little dry flour to stop the farl mix from sticking to the pan.Turn the dough out onto a floured board, knead lightly to form a round shape—then flatten it lightly with a rolling pin. Cut the circle into four or eight wedges and bake them on the griddle, a few wedges at a time. It should take around 5—10 mins each side, depending on how hot your griddle is. (The you tube video below is a useful visual guide but I would ignore what it says about 20 minutes each side).
When the underside has formed a firm skin, turn the wedge over using a slice and turn down the heat if necessary as the bread cooks on its second side. After a few minutes cooking on the second side, use a skewer to check if the farl is cooked through. Keep cooking until the skewer comes out clean. You don't want soft uncooked dough in the centre of your farl!
Let the farls cool slightly on a wire wrack. For best results serve warm with butter and jam.
If you cannot find buttermilk in your local supermarket, you can substitute with normal milk mixed with a generous squeeze of lemon juice. It's the acid in the buttermilk that makes the soda rise and gives this bread its great flavour.
A Word of Caution:
Soda farls are the easiest bread in the world—once you've seen an expert make them a couple of times! If you are trying this recipe for the first time, allow that it might take a little practice before you get it completely right.
- Make sure the dough is of a thick consistency
- Get your griddle at a good temperature—if it is smoking it is too hot, if the bread is barely cooking then it is too low
- Use a skewer to check each farl is cooked through until you get good at judging when the farls are ready.
How to Make Irish Soda Farls
My Grandmother's Secrets: Why Her Bread Was the Best
Out of her seventy or so direct descendants, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, no one has succeeded in making soda bread that tasted like my grandmother's soda bread—despite the fact that she followed a simple recipe. I've asked around my relatives and I think I have figured out a few secrets which helped make my Granmother's Irish soda farls the best:
- She never measured out the ingredients exactly.
- She always used her hands to make up the mix, never a spoon.
- The secret ingredient was love... my grandmother had a big heart, with room enough for her big family and I think when she was making her bread a little bit of that love must have dropped into the mix—its the only reason I can think of why her soda farls tasted so exceptionally good!
Making Soda Farls (Part 2)
The "Other" Soda Bread
I'm always surprised when I go outside the north of Ireland, what people refer to as "soda bread." Just to keep things clear—in the north of Ireland "soda bread" means a flat soda farl cooked on a griddle. In the rest of the world, it seems, "soda bread" means the oven-cooked soda bread which we in the north call "wheaten." Confused? Well don't worry they're both great breads... so why not try making both of them?
There is a hub all about making the "other" Irish soda bread which you can read by clicking here.
A Note on the History of Irish Soda Bread
The use of soda to leaven bread was not invented by the Irish but by the indigenous peoples of the Americas who used pearl ash combined with an acidic ingredient to make their bread rise. The first written recipe for a quick and easy soda bread is attributed to Amelia Simmons in her 1796 book American Cookery.
That said, the Irish have made soda bread their own and it continues to be very popular on the island today. The first references to Irish soda bread date from the mid-1800s when it was adopted by Irish mothers looking for a cheap and easy way to feed their (often large) families. The griddled soda farl would have traditionally been cooked over an open fire.
Today soda farls are an essential ingredient in an Ulster Fry (the cooked breakfast to beat all cooked breakfasts!). Some gourmet chefs are even experimenting with ways to reinvent the soda farl—serving mini-farls toasted with a variety of toppings such as smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket, or goats cheese and mango salsa.
So feel free to use this recipe for my Grandmother's Soda farls and have fun with it—reinvent the soda farl in whatever way you choose! I used soda farls in a new way when I was creating some recipes for my hub: Fun Ideas for St Patrick's Day Breakfast.
Sean McKeown on May 06, 2020:
Made these last week, took me back to my Grannie's kitchen in Northern Ireland. Thank you so much
Morag Burke on June 10, 2018:
Made these for the first time today They were lovely .I would probably put the griddle lower next time to make the outside a bit softer. practice makes perfect I suppose.
Maura Arter on March 15, 2018:
I'm from Belfast living in the states, my mother made this same soda bread all the time, did your grandmother make potato farls too ?, I have made them but they never taste just like my mothers, they are great right of the griddle with butter and also really tasty fried up with bacon and eggs for breakfast..
John k on February 26, 2017:
Tip: when cooked wrap in a clean tea towel and allow to cool naturally. This will help make the out side of your soda farl nice and soft.
Anne Lutton on October 14, 2016:
Potato Apple Bread, Think might be unique to County Armagh Area. Boil Potatoes, Mash smoothly add salt and little Butter, Bind together with a little plain flour by hand. Roll out to circle and add thin sliced bramley apple on 1/2 of circle, wet edges and fold over into semi circle. Cook slowly on a Griddle. When cooked through open up and sprinkle sugar to taste over apples and a few knobs of butter, close up again and enjoy!
Emilie on March 09, 2016:
Sounds like my grandma, right down to the dusting of flour on the griddle, the skewer, and NEVER measuring. She just dipped her hand in the flour bin and got to work. Great memories.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on December 05, 2015:
Glad you have found a way around the lack of buttermilk!
Kieran Savage on November 19, 2015:
I live in Thailand and butter milk is hard to come by. I improvise by using whole milk with enough vinegar to give it the tartness of buttermilk. Luckily cast iron cook ware is still easily obtained ,albeit rough cast . It does the job really well. We are blessed to have a German Butcher who cures his own bacon which tastes like bacon used to taste and gives a clear moisture free fat just make for frying free range eggs.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on April 28, 2015:
Good to know!
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on April 28, 2015:
I'm glad to bring back happy memories!
Gwyn on March 16, 2015:
My ancestors were from the Ireland. We've been making bread like this for as long as I can remember. My grandmother made her dough in a bread bowl, right on top of the flour, then pinched off and rolled into portions that were baked in a screaming hot oven. Yes, we still make them, split and buttered while hot.
Peter Goudy on March 15, 2015:
My scottish grandmother made girdle or gridle scones that look very much like the farls. here is the recipe
Grandma’s Girdle /Griddle Scones
2 cups of 5 Roses flour
2 tbsp of sugar
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of salt
a piece of butter the size of an egg
1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups of buttermilk
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the butter is in very small pieces.
Slowly mix in the buttermilk. Do not get the mixture too wet.
Divide this mixture into 2 portions.
Flour the counter and shape the mixture into a round shape ( approx. 8 inches in diameter
and ½ to ¾ inch in thickness) . Flour the top and pat the portion to form the round.
Flour the top then cut into quarters.
Place the quarters onto an electric non-stick griddle.
Cook for 4 min at 325 -350 or until a golden brown on each side.
To serve, cut each quarter in half then slice through the centre. Serve with butter and jam.
A girdle was an iron plate hung over fire for baking of cakes and scones in Scotland
-Oxford Illustrated Dictionary
Scone is pronounced “scawn” and not scone as in “stone”.
Margaret Brookfield on March 15, 2015:
I ate this bread for 21 years in Belfast and then have make it in Canada, but in the oven and it tastes just as good.
Bren on March 14, 2015:
Your photo looks like it was grilled in one round loaf, & then cut into wedges- or are the wedges just put back together? Cant wait try these
But want to do it right ! Thank you !
John mcclelland on January 07, 2015:
Great video thankyou. Just to say. If you flour your griddle( that is not a stone) you can tell better if your griddle is too hot because the flour will brown first .You can adjust the heat without burning your farls. The flour on your griddle prevents sticking. Although a little burn gives a good flavour and texture which is all important. I hope this helps and I'm not being too critical
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on November 15, 2013:
Sorry Ann, I don't know that one!
Ann on November 14, 2013:
have you got a recipe for potato apple bread also northern irish
Yaqub on July 24, 2013:
These sound great, I love oatmeal and dates. I wnoder if you could make them on a griddle? I have one that I use for pancakes (drop scones) although we call it a 'girdle' in Scotland. Might have a go at these at the weekend.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on July 04, 2013:
So glad to help you bring back happy memories!
Sheila Keast on July 02, 2013:
I just made these this afternoon and they are delicious. Thanks for posting the recipe . I remember my father making these back home in Northern Ireland on a big black griddle that we had. No more worrying now about having no soda with our Ulster fry. Big hugs ...
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on March 16, 2013:
I am sorry you didn't get to go back to Northern Ireland and see your grandmother, but I am glad you had the chance to learn her recipes at least. Enjoy your fry!
Darlene on March 16, 2013:
I learned to make soda bread from my grandmother and her recipe is almost exactly the same as the one you use! I also learned to make potato bread, scones and wheaten when I visited her in 2002. I am so happy I had her teach me then because I never had the opportunity to go back to Northern Ireland before she died.
I think we may need a fry for breakfast one day this week!
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on March 26, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your happy memories Itakins!
itakins from Irl on March 25, 2012:
So thrilled to have this recipe at last - I too watched my granny - a good Ulster woman make this bread every day after dinner,and she never measured anything!She always called it pan bread ,I think because she used an old cast iron pan...not sure.It was delicious....such memories.
Steph Harris from Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom on March 28, 2011:
Wonderful, my mum used to make these for us children, many years ago, her mum was Irish, warm with butter and jam was Sunday nights tea, also with cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. Thank you for sharing.
L M Reid from Ireland on March 24, 2011:
Yes one of the nicest breads anyone can make. Like you say sooo nice when eaten warm with butter dripping everywhere. Love the recipe
mikeq107 on March 21, 2011:
Hi Marie :0)
Belated happy Saint pats to you !!
I still make it, actually cheapest and best tasting bread I know of ....I add alot of other incredients to spice it up.
beamer on March 19, 2011:
Ok, you sold me. I now have to give this a try and see if I can get the wooden skewer to come out clean. Thank you for sharing.
Debby Bruck on March 17, 2011:
Looks like Southern Biscuits.
Eaglekiwi from -Oceania on March 17, 2011:
Oh Marie your a naughty wee thing! lol
Delicious ,I can almost smell it,just love it.
Beautifully presented too-thumbs up to Grandma too x
patlesaux from Ontario, Canada on March 17, 2011:
Going to give this a try, looks very appetizing. I haven't try it before, thanks for the recipe.
Lee A Barton from New Mexico on March 17, 2011:
I live aboard and don't have an oven for baking. Soda farls will cure my craving for homemade bread! But this hub is so much more than just a recipe. I really enjoyed reading it.
Brijam on March 17, 2011:
It's St. Patrick's Day and I'm in Belfast. Just loved your article. I too had a Granny who griddled soda farls. In her latter years she went high tech and used a griddle which burned gas. There is little to compare with hot soda and sweet tea.
One drawback was the countless burns I got on the back of my legs.
What about potato bread and Ulster Fries?
OMG I think I'll just pop out and stick the pan on.
Thanks again. You took me back to a kitchen floor in Lurgan, some 50 years ago. The smell ... Oh the smell.
I always thought that my granny's sodas were the best in the world, and she too never measured ingrediants.
She put her success down to the fact that as a young girl she had broken her wrist which never set properly. She always said that her success was due to her "gammy arm". But you are right. You cannot make great soda farls without a lot of love. Thanks again Marie.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on March 17, 2011:
I hope you do write something on those biscuits Derramy. Food is more than just something we need to surive - it is part of our culture and identity, and a link with our past...
Derramy W. Bailey from Sallisaw, OK. on March 16, 2011:
Marie, I am a food lover first and an amatuer cook. I love to cook and have since I was big enough to stand next to the stove. I think its wonderful that you have took on learning your Grandmother's recipe. I think that's a wonderful way to be able to hold on to that little part of our ancestory that warms the soul. thank your for your passion. I have one of my own from my Grandmother her homemade biscuits and they were always by hand and always made no matter when I came. you have inspired me and I think I may just write something on mine now so again thank you.
Mrs. Menagerie from The Zoo on March 16, 2011:
Ooooooh yummy yum...I can not wait to try this recipe. Thank you for sharing!
Emma from Houston TX on March 16, 2011:
Wonderful article.I really enjoyed this stuff.thanks for sharing.
Elayne from Rocky Mountains on March 14, 2011:
Okay, I'm drooling now - wish I had some right now. Thanks for sharing your Irish farl. Had never heard of it. I was in Scotland in 2007, but I really want to visit Ireland soon. Congrats on your nomination.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on March 13, 2011:
Thanks Ripplemaker - very excited about the nomination!
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on March 12, 2011:
Oh gosh, look at those tasty bread..could I be possibly hungrier than ever? (stomach grumbling) LOL
Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Please follow this link to read and vote: https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/hub/A-Judge-Bee-M... Cheers!
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on March 02, 2011:
So glad to spread the word about Soda farls - they deserve to be a lot better known!
Ghaelach on March 02, 2011:
Thanks Marie and big hugs and kisses. Super hub and a big thank you for doing this hub. You said you would. If nothing crops up I'll be having soda farls and my own version of an Ulster Fry for sunday breakfast. LOL
SilverGenes on March 01, 2011:
Oh my goodness! I remember these! You just took me whooshing back in time and I can taste them still - I will definitely try and make them. Thank you so much! :)