Whenever we travel in Ireland, Pat’s mother always requests that we bring her home some soda bread farls. Now in her 90s, she still remembers her own mother, a native of County Armagh, cooking the four triangular pieces on a hot griddle.
For us, it’s a good request since it guarantees that we seek out a homey traditional bakery. In Belfast, that was Jeffers Home Bakery (4-6 College Street, 028 9032 7157, www.jeffersbakery.co.uk), right across the street from Sawers in the downtown shopping district.
The operation started small in East Belfast when William Jeffers bought a van in 1937 and began delivering bread from Thompson’s Bakery. By 1950 he had purchased the first bakery of his own and the little business began to grow. Andrew Jeffers, the third generation of the family, runs the College Street shop. It’s the only Jeffers outpost in the central city.
Jeffers makes all types of cakes and tray bakes and is known for such holiday specialties as mince pies, trifles, and Christmas puddings. The shop always has lots of fresh breads and rolls – along with white, wheat, and treacle (molasses) soda farls.
Pat’s mother, a purist, prefers the white soda farls. That’s also what Jeffers cooks split in half and grill in butter for their “Filled Soda” breakfast menu. With prices ranging from £1.15 (cheese) to £2.55 (egg and two strips of bacon), the filled sodas make an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal. (That’s a farl with egg and sausage below.)
Eat them outside at one of the three little tables under the awning and you might catch Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter on the animated Alice Clock on the upper level of the Fountain Centre across the street.
The recipe is simple, but the devil is in the details. Quit kneading sooner than you’d expect—while the dough is still a little sticky. Watch heat under the griddle carefully to avoid burning the exterior before the center is cooked. This recipe is adapted from My NI: Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016.
1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
Prepare a heavy flat griddle or frying pan on medium to low heat.
Place the flour, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Work quickly to mix into a dough. Place on a well-floured surface and knead lightly until smooth ball forms. Press into a flattened circle a bit less than a half-inch thick and cut into quarters with a floured knife.
Sprinkle a little flour over the base of the hot pan and place each quarter onto the hot pan, one at a time, until the quarters form a complete circle. Cook the farls for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. You may have to cut through the center cross to turn them over. Take the pan off the heat and allow the farls to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.
Makes 4 farls