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Irish Bread

Baking traditions in the Emerald Isle are the stuff of legends, but soda bread remains everyone's favorite.

VIDEO: See How to Make Irish Soda Bread


There are many traditional baked goods in Ireland that have evolved over the centuries. From the earliest times, bread-making was an integral part of daily life in almost every home. Families lived in isolated farmhouses where most kitchens had only open hearths, not ovens, so the breads that developed were baked on griddles or in large three-legged black iron pots over fragrant turf fires. The aroma and taste of traditional soda bread is unique to Ireland, and it's become the established favorite with tourists and locals alike.


Leavening


Buttermilk and soda were the main raising agents used in the past, and the use of these prime ingredients has never lapsed. Buttermilk is a great preservative, but more importantly it gives soda bread and scones that beautiful tender crumb for which they are famous.


Traditions


Even though there is an abundance of readily available, good-quality breads in supermarkets today, quite a few Irish families still bake their own daily from specially treasured recipes passed down through the generations.

  • In most parts of Ireland, soda bread is shaped and baked as a round loaf with a cross marked on top.
  • You might be surprised to learn that it isn't a religious symbol at all, nor was it to let the fairies out. In the old days, it was simply a practical method of dividing the baked bread into four quarters.
  • In the North of the country, soda bread is cooked on a flat griddle pan and comes in triangular shapes called farls. The name originates from the Gaelic word fardel, meaning "fourth part." The dough is flattened into a round disc and divided into four equal triangular shapes. The bread cooks quickly on a hot dry griddle or frying pan. Each farl is then split in half and eaten warm.
  • Farls are also very popular fried in bacon fat and served as part of the infamous Irish breakfast. It's believed that soda-bread farls evolved this way because it is the fastest method of cooking bread when unexpected guests arrive for a bit of banter. Try this recipe for Irish Soda Farls.


Since soda bread is a simple bread to make and can be rustled up in minutes, an astonishing number of variations exist: wheaten, with raisins and caraway seeds, the treacle variety, or simply plain--all equally irresistible.

There's no doubting, however, that soda bread tastes best still warm from the oven, spread with lashings of butter and homemade rhubarb jam and washed down with that essential cuppa tea.



Find more Irish recipes in our St. Patrick's Day collection!

Comments
GeorgeandJeanne 
Sep. 17, 2009 10:43 am
Jpeterson Just want to say that all the info and commants on irish breads and history are informativefun and delightful...thank all of you.
 
DONNA 
Oct. 4, 2009 11:40 am
I appreciate the Irish History. Thank you soo much.
 
Sherri 
Nov. 3, 2009 5:05 pm
Maybe its the humidity.
 
BACLYN1 
Nov. 30, 2009 8:41 am
sometines the ingredients are different from ireland and in the states, ie. the way the make-up of the starches in the flours are different as well as the particle size. Is she bringing ingredients back with her?
 
Gary O'Nanski 
Dec. 4, 2009 10:54 am
The Irish history of the bread was great .Can't wait to try it
 
helenadollar 
Dec. 6, 2009 11:53 pm
My family migrated to the states from Ireland in the 90's. My mother would always says that our flour here was not the same as the flour in Ireland. Must be the way its processed.
 
Dec. 11, 2009 6:52 pm
I am guessing they use freshly milled flour- that would probably account for a major flavor difference.
 
carol 
Dec. 15, 2009 1:19 pm
it is definitely the flour in the states - i'm canadian of english descent (surprise, surprise! :o) ) -the flour is different in the US - the gluten content is different and affects baked goods - adding whole wheat flour for a portion of all purpose helps.
 
Dunbar 
Dec. 22, 2009 5:20 pm
having lived in England...it is the flour. I bring some back when I am there and it makes the difference. My friend has started grinding her own flour so we are going to use some freshly ground after New Year and see how it tastes.
 
Feb. 27, 2010 6:44 am
Depending on where you live, it might also have something to do with a change in altitude.
 
Becky 
Mar. 2, 2010 9:01 pm
Which flour is best to use? I have hard red wheat that I mill fresh. Also could use store bought all purpose or bread flour.
 
SWEINST864 
Mar. 3, 2010 8:56 am
Try a combo of flour and cake flour
 
RR 
Mar. 3, 2010 1:39 pm
King Aurthor whole wheat flour is a good alternative to the Irish flour, not exactly the same, but the best i have found.
 
jimgawn 
Mar. 5, 2010 5:30 am
Origins of the word "farl": it may well be that fardel/farl passed through Irish Gaelic on its way to Mid-Ulster English. (The Celtic and Anglo cultures in Ireland have ebbed and flowed in influence over the centuries.) However, according to several on-line dictionaries, it is a Middle English word, from the French, with possible origins in Arabic.
 
gwen 
Mar. 7, 2010 9:56 am
i had an irish grandfather. i love being able to make these irish dishes. so far i have loved every one of them. and i really enjoy the irish history. thank you eversomuch for both!!!
 
vic 
Mar. 7, 2010 5:00 pm
what ratio on the flour to cake flour,bread or all purpose,rookie bread maker esking. thanks
 
pecheleleaw 
Mar. 12, 2010 2:03 pm
My grandma Flannagan, said 'if the cow is eating differently, then the milk is surely going to give you different milk'! I guess what she meant is our ingredients will be different if anything else is (for ex., giving a naturally grass grazing animal, hay and 'feed' that's mixed w/animal 'by products' and don't forget that gave us "mad cow disease--YEAH!-- I'll bet that cow was mad)..! People in France, for instance, INSIST and will NOT COMPROMISE when it comes to food-they have VERY strict laws about what is acceptable for growing and processing-farmers are royalty there! We accept nitrites in our meats, BHT in shelved products, etc..I think using organic products makes a HUGE difference in how recipes turn out! But, good grief it's costly (just to have nature not tampered with-go figure!)! We MUST stand up for TASTE and good health folks! As always, many thanks to all you great people for your help, hints, and sharing treasured family recipes!!
 
simple life 
Apr. 19, 2010 12:54 pm
Very Interesting Reading Indeed! I have really learned a lot! Thanks!
 
LBEB 
Jun. 7, 2010 11:50 am
For those in the states who miss the Irish flour, maybe, if you can, try flour from Canada. It's a different grain, therefore USA flour, and Canada flour are not created equal. A good example is Canadian's can use their all-purpose flour in recipes that call for bread flour. But American's can't do the sub with their all-purpose. It might be closer to what they have in Ireland. Maybe not. But it would be worth a go. In any case it has more versatility for cooking, so you can't go wrong with the purchase. :)
 
tracy 
Jun. 15, 2010 1:31 pm
I am trying some tonight :-)
 
Con 
Jun. 21, 2010 12:54 pm
looking at the comments on soda bread it is with out doubt the flour, I have brought some back when I go to Ireland, I make it there with the same recipe as I use here, its som much better there, any way my soda bread here is just fine, if any one has a real good reciepe post it so I can try it.
 
karmala 
Jul. 31, 2010 5:04 am
just last week I saw Irish Soda Bread flour in a local market for the first time. If/when I see it again, I will get some to try and post the results...
 
Aug. 24, 2010 6:41 pm
I have a coupla cherished recipes that I use for soda bread. One from the family in Kerry, one from the family in Armagh. I must say they are followed to the T and yet none taste like my Nana's. I wonder if it's the company and the talk over tea and the secure feeling of being at your Nana's table eating her bread on a damp day that makes the difference? All us gals in the family have tried to replicate the bread and even added or changed it in some way. But not one of us can say it measures up to hers! I wonder if the ingredients are different or if it's the old way of cooking that has gone by, sadly.
 
Shirl 
Sep. 9, 2010 3:45 pm
These comments are most informative! I am glad the Irish flour seems to be replaced by bread flour, so will use that when I try it tonight.
 
Karen 
Sep. 18, 2010 10:58 pm
You need to use "soft" flours, i.e., those that are low in protein, to duplicate Irish flour--any kind of hard wheat, white or red, won't give you good results. Even our all-purpose flour has too much gluten for good soda bread and bread flour is probably the worst thing you can use. Depending on your recipe, use white or whole wheat pastry flours (actually, you'll probably need both for brown bread recipes) and if you're going to mill your own (lucky you!), use soft wheat berries.
 
brian 
Sep. 20, 2010 11:08 am
I'm from Northern Ireland and now live in the US. For white soda bread farls, white US bread flour makes bread pretty darn close to the standard shop-bought white soda bread you get in Ireland. I can now make them perfectly (though the sodium level is very high, so I don't eat a lot of it...). Quick easy recipe: 2 cups flour 1/2 tbl. baking powder 3/4 tsp. salt 1 tsp. baking soda 1 cup buttermilk (Buttermilk powder equivalent is almost as good.) Mix it in a bowl until all the flour is moistened, but don't over mix. Shape it into a flat 8" round. Drop it on a heavily floured griddle (I use a heavy cast iron tortilla maker!) preheated to 350F. Mark it into quarters with a knife about halfway through. Cook it about 10 minutes total. I usually do it 7 minutes one side so I can turn it over, then 3 minutes the other side. Knock the excess flour off and wrap it up when it comes out so the crust stays soft. (My mum worked in a bakery in Belfast and she told me they come off a conveyor
 
Karen 
Sep. 20, 2010 5:56 pm
Brian, how does wheaten bread in NI differ from that in ROI? I understand there are some differences but I can't seem to find a recipe that appears to do anything differently. Do you have one? BTW, I'm lucky enough to have access to Irish groceries here in NYC and use Odlums Coarse Wholemeal and Cream for brown bread and Cream for white bread and think it's wonderful. I really find there's a difference with using Cream or pastry flour for white bread compared with all-purpose (which I find a lot heavier and wetter). I'd like to try my hand at farls one of these days when I have time...when I finally do, though, I'll try your recipe. Have you ever made treacle bread?
 
brian 
Sep. 20, 2010 10:15 pm
Karen, I've been able to get really light, soft farls with most US white bread flours. It almost seems the quicker you make it the better it is (that might actually result in less gluten development, I guess.) I can get 4 farls ready to eat from scratch in less than 30 minutes, so you don't have to put that much time aside. I lived in Dublin for a while and I'm sorry to say I didn't get much chance to figure out the best bakeries. (Aside from Avoca near Bray, who had fantastic wheaten breads in their cafe). In general, the wheaten bread was denser and heavier, I thought, probably because of slightly finer flour (or more white flour mixed in.) My impression was that the northern bakeries tended to use an even coarser ground wholemeal than in the south, often with extra grains like oats and maybe even rye in the mix. I suspect that's the main difference, rather than any difference in the baking technique. The coarser the flour, the less dense the bread seems to be. It also doesn't hol
 
Karen 
Sep. 22, 2010 7:33 pm
LOL, my can of treacle blew its top off over the summer--I guess it was too warm in the kitchen. The only Irish wholemeal I can find (without resorting to online shipping--something I'm not about to do with something as heavy as flour) is Odlums Coarse; Odlums also mills an Extra Coarse but the local Irish grocery store doesn't carry it (which is okay because "coarse" seems plenty rustic). I've read product reviews for the King Arthur Irish-style on their Web site and while pretty much everyone seems to like it, at least one reviewer has mentioned that it's not as coarse as Irish wholemeal; I'm willing to bet that the KA isn't stone-milled. I personally like whole-grain flours to be ground on stones because I not only prefer the texture and taste, I like to keep the old ways going as well. I've discovered that I really like the flavor of Irish wholemeal. It's SO different to our own wheat and I like the texture of the bread, too. Whole grain breads here have a tendency to taste like
 
ktgreen89 
Oct. 7, 2010 7:44 am
very interesting....i love soda bread!
 
Karen 
Oct. 9, 2010 12:38 pm
Yes, it's nice, isn't it? Our local Irish grocery now has Odlums Extra-Coarse and they had some soda farls from Ireland that I was assured by the employee from Ulster are really good. I'll pick some up next time to try, THEN try my hand at my own.
 
Irish 
Oct. 15, 2010 12:41 am
I'm from Ireland {Galway } when ever I'm home I bring back bread with me but its flavor changes once i get here,I was thinking its the altitude when you fly in, I cant figure it out anyway here's a web site for you Irish fans they have all Irish food.foodireland.com happy baking everyone
 
bdan26 
Oct. 18, 2010 2:40 am
This was fascinating. Being 50% Irish, I like the Irish ways, but being diabetic, breads & potatoes are not a regular part of my diet. I am now also gluten intolerant but want to make a gluten free wholegrain healthy good for you bread. Anyone mastered this yet?
 
Sanguinari 
Oct. 31, 2010 12:16 pm
I'm definitely going to try this recipe :) I wonder if the flour here in Sweden is more similar to irish flour than American flour... I'll have to test it on my irish friend and see what he says. in response to the origin of the word fardel, it is not middle english and it is most definitely not of arabic origin, it is an anglo-saxon adopted word and the current evolution of this word is Fyrdel, fjärdedel amongst others. Languages native to scandinavia(Norwegian, danish, swedish)still use it, i know for certain that we say fyrdel in swedish. the literal translation is "one part of four"
 
cajun 
Dec. 4, 2010 6:26 am
This was an interesting site. I looked on the net and found Irish flour for sale. I am going to order some and try this recipe. I have started canning my own vegies and can tell the difference in taste without all the preservatives.
 
STLCooking 
Jan. 5, 2011 1:53 pm
@kdallmer, What kinds of flour have your tried, just AP, or have you tried bread flour? Also, yes the buttermilk is a bit different. The USDA, while it keeps most of us safe from things that make us sick, the guidelines for pasturization tend to cook some of the flavor our. Tie that with the natural cultures in Ireland as opposed to the US, and it will make a difference. Kind of like Sourdough bread from San. Fran, and anywhere else, it's just missing that certain.... something.
 
harpmom 
Jan. 12, 2011 7:34 am
Thanks for the recipe Brian. I am anxious to try this with the King Arthur flour I just ordered. I haven't eaten soda break before but prefer a more original introduction than a sweeter American version.
 
jenkon 
Jan. 21, 2011 6:17 pm
GRAET!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Bexmc 
Jan. 23, 2011 5:37 pm
So after reading all of these comments about the differences in flours in Ireland and the US, I decided to try Hodgson Mill whole wheat flour. It is stone ground and very coarse. I have never had this bread but it was absolutely wonderful with my Irish stew and colcannon! Thanks to you all for the info.
 
Irish Stew 
Jan. 28, 2011 6:55 am
Soda bread is part of an Ulster fry not (usually) an Irish breakfast. And in my experience an Irish breakfast also has black and/or white pudding. I'm from Ulster and travelled all through Ireland (North and South) with my work and when staying in a hotel or B&B in the south, I always had to ask for soda bread with my breakfast and very rarely did they have it. Potato bread (boxty) was plentiful though wherever I happened to be.
 
cosmiccookery 
Feb. 21, 2011 8:06 pm
Thanks so much to all the posted comments. learned more about flour than I ever knew about flour. Great Education .......Thanks Again
 
gwen 
Mar. 7, 2011 10:20 am
after reading all this. i thank you for the irishfood. website. i'm going to try that out.
 
Mar. 9, 2011 6:35 am
I lived in Ireland for years and must add that each person who makes soda bread has a different 'hand', even with the same recipes. My friend Donal made the very best brown soda bread, always wrapped it in a towel right out of the oven...it was dense and crumbly but was consistently delicious and totally addictive!
 
Mar. 9, 2011 2:54 pm
I use all purpose UNBLEACHED flour for all of my bread making, whether it is for scones, irish soda bread or french bread, and get excellent results. It makes a big differnece in my bread making. This is a tip I learned many years ago from Julia Child, on her french bread making show.
 
guiller 
Mar. 12, 2011 4:02 am
nice and easy... hehehehehe.. very informative and complete..

thanks,
[url=http://www.easycookrecipes.com]easy recipes[/url]
 
fultzie 
Mar. 12, 2011 6:35 pm
What a fun topic. I love trying new recipes ans I will definetly give this one a go. I bought some "spelt" flour at an Amish store, Does anyone know anything about that? Should I try it for the soda bread?
 
jes_daniel 
Mar. 14, 2011 2:58 pm
Irish soda bread is always a traditional favorite around this time. I found another recipe for irish soda bread here http://www.jesrestaurantequipment.com/chefphilonline/irish-soda-bread-recipe/
 
bobo 
Mar. 15, 2011 6:40 am
l like the bread but pls send me how to make rich bread
 
Iguana 
Mar. 15, 2011 7:09 pm
I'll pass on this one entirely, and I bake a lot of bread. A friend of ours once gave us a loaf of Soda Bread. It weighed about 10 pounds, and was as hard as a brick. We sawed off a piece to try it, and even warmed up, it was stiff, crumbly and tasted like sawdust. We ended up throwing it out in the back yard, where it remained for a month because even the crows wouldn't eat it. Finally retrieved it and threw it in the trash. Maybe should have used it as a doorstop.
 
philg 
Mar. 15, 2011 7:38 pm
My mother still makes her own soda bread... I make my own too but it's never "just" like Mum's :o/
 
sunee 
Mar. 15, 2011 9:15 pm
after reading all the comments, I will definitely try to make a soda bread from the scratch
 
iGUY 
Mar. 16, 2011 5:04 am
From Northern Ireland too - and yes using Cake Flour that is finer than normal flour will give you better results. Prior to cooking - cover the pan with a light dusting of flour,once the pan heats up and the flour starts to slight smoke(or turn brown) - then you know the pan is hot enough to grill your bread on -works great on an iron skillet to make the farls.
 
Tina 
Mar. 16, 2011 7:44 am
Hmmmm...I bake my own whole wheat bread every week, and I've tried my hand at many types of flat breads ranging from Na'an, Turkish bazlama, to Foccacia. I've tried the Hodgson's Mill Whole Wheat flour for bread and it makes VERY dense loaves. I use a different brand now with much better results. I guess I'll have to try the soda bread with all the different flours I've got to see which turns out best! Wish me luck, for I have guests coming for dinner this weekend for corned beef and cabbage!
 
Country Nana 
Mar. 17, 2011 5:54 am
Soda bread I've had(all in the states) seem to fit one of two types: dinner bread or coffee cake. If you're in the Hudson Valley the best is from Bread Alone. Beautiful brown, crusty, with golden raisins and caraway seeds. A little bit of heaven!! Today I try to make my own with Allrecipes.com I'm Irish so maybe I'll have enough luck.
 
Valerie 
Mar. 17, 2011 10:25 am
I have whole wheat berries at home which I like to cook up for hot cereal and side dishes sometimes for a change. I have "milled" oats in my blender and made oat flour before, has anyone tried this with wheatberries.... and then baked with it. Wondering how this would work to make the soda bread as farls. I would love to do this Saturday morning for breakfast, perhaps mixed with a bit of oat flour and rye.
 
Paití 
Apr. 11, 2011 2:42 pm
My soda bread is different when I make it here in the states because I believe there is a higher gluten level in the all-purpose flour. Rather than bring flour back every year from Ireland, I substitute cake flour for a portion of the APF to lower the gluten level.
 
Jul. 14, 2011 11:19 pm
Definitely a difference between our all purpose flour in Canada and the flour my mother used in N. Ireland. All this being said I think that I have finally accomplished a very good soda bread (both wholewheat and white). Do suggest you use baking powder and baking soda.
 
jennyj 
Sep. 20, 2011 6:31 am
It's the flour. I was told by a lady from Ireland to use Five Roses flour and it works great. Also let the buttermilk thicken and cook on a griddle - sopda farls
 
Nov. 28, 2011 4:01 pm
I saw barefoot Contessa from food network making this Irish soda bread today, i am definitely going to try it...will post pics when i do.
 
KatieBe 
Dec. 29, 2011 9:24 am
My gran in Monaghan made a flat pale bread in her cast iron skillet on the stove. My dad says it isn't farls but I am wondering if it is and she just made a non-quartered variation of it? The dough goes into the pan touching the edges as you would a cake, and it doesn't rise, it was flat, about 2 inches high. Any ideas? Thanks.
 
clem 
Jan. 8, 2012 7:34 am
well i have made the soda bread which i thought was very good, having never eaten "authentic" soda bread. having read many of the comments here, i have found maybe the bread i have been making is a far cry from what real soda bread is like. the bread i have made is maybe too dense and not so crumbly, all this implies to me is my search for proper ingredients has just begun. in my recipe i have used unbleached all purpose flour and regular milk with a teaspoon of vinegar. in the futute i will try buttermilk and stoneground whole wheat which is readily available through hodgkins mills locally, all the comments and history that people have contributed have been facinating at the least and most helpful. thanks to everyone for sharing.
 
LizzyC 
Mar. 7, 2012 6:37 am
Our gourmet club made delicious soda bread with the raisins and caraway seeds. Very easy. Served with whipped butter while still warm. Everyone loved it! I used regular wheat and whole wheat flours 3:1. Absolutely wonderful. Since I haven't had any in Ireland, this was tops for me.
 
Mar. 7, 2012 9:29 am
My neighbor growing up (1960's Chicago south side) made a bread she called "soda bread" (she was Irish) but it was soft and light and more like our white bread (no raisin). It was not the heavy, dense Irish Soda Breads I have made and bought from current recipes. Is anyone familiar with this soft white "soda" bread? It was eaten warm and was wonderful!
 
LizzyC 
Mar. 7, 2012 4:53 pm
A friend of mine owned a bakery for a short time. He made a light fluffy white bread he said was Irish. I think he called it salt bread. It had a delicious, almost crispy crust.
 
pattieb53 
Mar. 7, 2012 5:04 pm
As Brian states in his recipe, use 2 teaspoons of Baking Powder. I find that buttermilk is a must and an egg wash before baking doesn't hurt either. I bake in a casserole and about 20 minutes before end of cooking time, take the bread out of the dish and either finish baking on the rake or on a stone that has been in the over for the whole time. Good luck to you all!
 
Aggie 
Mar. 13, 2012 6:07 pm
When we travelled to the States we brought our own flour from Canada.
 
kathood 
Mar. 14, 2012 6:40 am
I can tell by breastfeeding that what I ate affected my milk. We don't have rich fields of green here anymore. Cows are bread for quantity more than quality. Our grain isn't grown on naturally fertilized ground either. I love soda bread and cook with buttermilk often. There is never any 'left over'.
 
gin695 
Mar. 17, 2012 11:19 am
Was searching "Irish Soda Bread" when I came across this page. I have a recipe to try tomorrow, and really enjoyed/found useful all the posts.
 
DBrown 
Mar. 17, 2012 12:01 pm
Can I make the dough, let it set for a few hours , then Bake it??
 
Apr. 23, 2012 12:13 pm
Great article, loved the history of soda bread. All the comments have been extremely helpful too. Thanks so much.
 
Irish Eyez 
Aug. 28, 2012 7:22 pm
Here's my version of Irish Soda Bread, normally called, Wheaten Bread in the north of Ireland where I am originally from. I use butter milk, so no need for baking powder at all. ( Btw, make sure your butter milk is brought to room temp., before use or your bread will be quite heavy. ) Wheaten Bread: 3 cups of whole wheat stone milled flour 1 cup of all purpose flour 1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 2 Tblsp white sugar 2 OZ of marg Butter Milk to mix: Cut finely the marg., into the flour mixture until it resembles bread crumbs. You can use your fingers to do this. Add butter milk and mix.Don't make it too wet!Firm into two rounds and place an 'X' on top. Make sure you lightly flour your pan ( cookie sheet ) and bake; 33 mins @ 375 Cool.
 
 
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