Soda bread, soda farls, wheaten bread, and brown soda bread refer to the same style of bread and are all eaten daily in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Simple and economical to make, they are loaves you can knock up in less than an hour when you have unexpected guests, when you want some lovely warm bread with your meal, or when you have some milk that has gone sour in the fridge. Baked either freeform or in a baking pan, this bread is fantastic eaten plain on the day it was made (especially with a green salad tossed in a sharp dressing), great toasted on day two and ready for the birds by day three. It’s not a good keeper, but it always gets eaten really quickly!
450 g wheat flour (plain white, wholemeal, or a mixture)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
2 g salt
400 ml buttermilk, sour milk or 50% plain yogurt and 50% full-fat milk (you can sour milk with lemon juice if you do not have sour milk, yogurt, or buttermilk, but if you do, add 1 teaspoon cream of tartar otherwise the bread will not rise very much)
optional extras: a handful or two of strong cheese either grated or crumbled, or mixed seeds, or dried fruit like raisins or dates or apricots, or nuts like walnuts or hazelnuts
prepared baking sheet
MAKES 1 BIG LOAF
Preheat the oven to 230 ̊C.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl and mix very well. Add any optional extras at this point and mix in. Add the buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt-milk and mix in well. You may have to resort to your hands in order to incorporate everything evenly but don’t knead or squash – treat this dough lightly and the bread will be light. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter.
Give the dough a light little knead just to bring it all together, give it some smoothness, and shape it into a ball. Wet your hands with a bit of water if you have to in order to minimize the sticking. Pick the ball up with a scraper and put it on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten it slightly so that it is about 4 cm high. Wet a knife or scraper and cut an ‘X’ into the ball nearly down to the bottom of the dough. The dough is so thick that if you do not cut an ‘X’ into it, the inside will not bake. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 200 ̊C and bake for another 15–20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack.
To make a square loaf, spoon the dough into a small, well-greased baking pan. Wet the end of a wooden spoon and make a 2.5-cm channel down the middle of the dough lengthwise. Bake as above.
To make soda farls, turn the dough out of the bowl onto a well floured counter. Sprinkle more flour over the top and give it a little knead. Flatten it gently with a floured rolling pin until 1 cm/3⁄8 inch thick. Cut the dough into wedges or squares or use a cookie cutter to stamp out rounds. Fry the farls in a very hot pan greased with oil or lard. Butter will burn so it’s best not to use it, or use it in combination with another oil. The farls will rise up when they cook and when they do, flip them over to cook the other side. Wow – yum!