Every morning, I look up the "Word of the Day" in the Montreal Gazette. If it’s a word I think I might use, I memorize it and write it in my notebook; if it’s a word that produces no reaction, I head for the business section.
Two weeks ago, one word caught my eye: farl. The Gazette defined it as a "wedge of oat cake". I had never heard of it so I went on the Internet for a recipe. It turns out that farl is also known as Irish Soda Bread. The one I chose was Peter Mum’s recipe which you’ll find here: http://www.europeancuisines.com/Peters-Mums-Soda-Bread-Recipe. Read his article; he not only shares the recipe, but also talks about the history of soda bread and how different regions in the UK make it. The variations are regional. What he says:
"In Ireland, "plain" soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: cake and farl. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland seem to like farl better — though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names.
Cake is soda bread kneaded and shaped into a flattish round, then deeply cut with a cross on the top (to let the bread stretch and expand as it rises in the oven). This style of soda bread is normally baked in an oven."
Discovering farl was a godsend. One, it has only four ingredients, two, you don’t need yeast, three, you knead for only 30 seconds, and four, you can substitute the buttermilk by combining milk and vinegar (1 cup milk to 1 tsbp vinegar). The best reason? You can bake it or cook it on a heavy skillet!
I wasn’t sure I would like farl. The list of ingredients sounded as bland as a poor man’s snack. There was nothing "sexy" about it, but I liked the word so much that it’s been added to my dwindling vocabulary. And I enjoyed Peter Mum’s romantic narration so decided I had to try it.
Whoa! Glad I did…
The first time I made it, the taste hit me. This is just about the best homemade bread you can make for your favorite people. Although the shape and texture went awry, I developed a schoolgirl type of crush, making it two more times and improvising like a scientist gone mad.
Here’s my farl story in three parts. First, here are the ingredients from Peter Mums’ recipe:
3-1/2 cups flour (either cake flour or all-purpose)
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
8-10 fl ounces of buttermilk
First Farl: I combined 35% whipping cream and 35% cooking cream and mixed in 2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (to make my buttermilk). These creams were almost expiring and I didn’t want to waste them. Bad move. I paid dearly for that unjust act. This is how the farl came out, looking more like a weather-beaten baseball glove minus the fingers. It was hard. But the taste was something else. I was smitten!
Made my buttermilk by using 1-1/2 cans of evaporated milk mixed with 2 tbsp of white vinegar. I left it for 20-30 minutes to let the vinegar sufficiently sour the milk. I then baked the bread at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes. Tremendous rise (for a no-yeast bread). Excellent flavor.
This time I used 2 cups all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup semolina flour. I also added dried potato flakes because I was afraid the whole wheat and the 45-minute baking time would harden the bread. I also used more milk and the dough was really wet, so wet in fact that the 30-second kneading was a struggle. When it came out of the oven, I smothered the crust with butter. The result? Again, delicious bread!
Farl will be part of my breakfast and snack routine from now on. We ate the first slices with strong cheddar cheese. The next morning, we put slices in the toaster oven and slathered peanut butter on them. Farl will go with anything. Or with nothing. Either way, it’s wonderful bread.
The method is idiot-proof:
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.
Step 1: sift your dry ingredients once, making sure the salt, sugar and baking soda blend into the flour.
Step 2: put your sifted ingredients into a large bowl and make a hole in the center.
Step 3: pour your buttermilk (or your improvised buttermilk). You may want to add the milk gradually. Don’t be afraid to end up with a tacky and wettish dough. Once blended, transfer your dough on to the counter and knead for 30 seconds – no need to do it vigorously and don’t knead for more than 60 seconds!
Step 4: form into a ball and put it on a cookie tray or pan.
Step 5: bake at 450 degrees for first 10 minutes. Reduce to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes.
Step 6: Farl is done when golden brown in color and it produces a hollow sound when tapped from the bottom. Transfer to a cooling rack and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Warning: Farl – or Irish Soda Bread – is addicting. So far no cure has been found…