Lemon and caraway farles – A version of the classic brown Irish soda bread. Perfumed with roasted aromatic caraway seeds and citrus lemon then cooked in a skillet.
My mother never made bread like this and if I’m honest I’d never even tasted let alone made a farle until I tried the commercial mass-produced version that you can buy down the supermarket. Celebrity chef Paul Rankin has even put his name to a brand. It’s an ideal bread for him to endorse. He comes from the heartland of the farle up in the north of Ireland where they serve it for breakfast as part of the traditional Ulster fry up.
Down here in the south this quick cook skillet bread isn’t all that common. Traditionally cooks here baked the same bread over the hearth or in the oven and I reckon we’ve been missing a trick. There’s something quite satisfying about cooking bread on a stove top and watching it as it turns golden and puffs up a little right before your eyes. It very similar to cooking pancakes, drop scones, or blinis and I suppose farles are a combined Irish version of all 3.
These bread type farles aren’t to be confused with the potato farle. Which are really just glorified potato cakes with the addition of some flour and baking powder. Their tasty enough but i find their texture a little dense. Theres never enough flour or baking powder in them and if you want one that’s light and fluffy than you need milk in the recipe. It’s crucial if you want anything with baking powder in it to rise. So if you’re going to all that trouble you might as well leave the potato out all together and make these ones.
There’s lot’s of recipes around for farles and most seem to stick to the traditional ingredients for soda bread, flour, bread soda, salt, and buttermilk. The only difference been the type of flour used. Either plain white, wholemeal, or a combination of the two which is the way I went with my recipe.
I love the slight nutty flavour wholemeal flour gives bread. it works so well with the natural acidity of the buttermilk and it’s the reason I can never say no to a thick slice of brown soda bread, still warm from the oven, covered with a generous helping of real butter.
The word farle apparently means “fourths” and refers to the way the dough is rolled into circle and cut into quarters. The ones you buy in the shop though have ditched this traditional shape in favour of a rectangle.
Having made this recipe a good few times I think the key to a good farle is down to how thick you roll out the dough. You don’t want it so thin that it’s like a pancake but if it’s too thick then cooking it becomes a little tricky. Although it might have a beautifully golden exterior it could still be uncooked at the centre. The thickness of the dough has to be balanced by the heat of your skillet. I’ve found that a dough about a half-inch thick and a gentle heat in the pan gets the job done.
I got the original recipe for farles here at the society for the preservation of irish soda bread. It comes from the legendary Irish food oracle Theodora Fitzgibbon. A woman who was a bit like the elizabeth david of Irish food. She wrote a lot of cookbooks in her day and had an article in the Irish times for years. My mother used to cut them out and swore by her recipes so when I saw it I had to give it a go.
Unfortunately being a chef I couldn’t help but mess with it a bit. So after a little experimentation I changed the ratio of wholemeal to plain flour. 50/50 gives a slightly lighter farle and isn’t as course at Theodoras recipe (she uses 80% wholemeal to 20% plain flour)
I also added some sweet aromatic caraway seeds to the dough. This give the farle a slight peppery flavour which is balanced by the buttermilk and the addition of some lemon zest. Ideal if you’re planning to serve your farle for breakfast with some smoked salmon and rich scrambled egg. You can of course add anything you like, herbs, spring onion, or your favourite spice. Just bear in mind what you’re going to serve your farle with.
Farles are an ideal sunday morning breakfast food, You could roll out of bed, mix up the dough, and have them gently baking away in the pan in about 5 minutes. No kneading or proving needed.
Gently heat a pan on the stove, add the caraway seed, and roast for a couple of minutes till brown. Next, transfer them to a mortar and pestle and grind them up roughly to release their aromatic floral flavour.
Place the wholemeal flour in a mixing bowl and add the crushed caraway seeds and salt. Than sive in the bread soda and plain white flour.
In a separate bowl mix together the buttermilk, lemon zest and juice before adding it to the flour. Mix everything together to form a dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead 3 or 4 times till smooth. Form it into a ball and roll it out into a circle a half inch thick, then cut in into quarters leaving you with four evenly sized triangles.
To cook the farles heat a pan on a low heat for a minute or two before adding in the bread, Cook for 8 /10 minutes on each side till golden. Than remove them to a wire rack to cool down a little. Thier delicious smothered with real butter and eaten while still warm.
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