What is a Farl?

Debra Durkee

A farl is a non-rising form of bread popular throughout Ireland. It is made from the same dough used in soda bread or potato cakes. The shape of the final piece of pastry is what makes a farl a farl. It is a somewhat generic term used to refer to a flat bread that is circular when baked but then cut into triangular quarters for consumption.

Blood sausage, which is often served with farls.
Blood sausage, which is often served with farls.

The term refers mostly to the way in which the bread is cut rather than the ingredients. Popular types of farls include those made from soda bread and potato bread, both of which are somewhat atypical types of bread. Neither are made with yeast, as Ireland has a very damp climate that makes it difficult to grow wheat crops to use in making yeast-based bread that rises correctly. To overcome this, bread is traditionally made with only a few ingredients and comes out flat when baked.

Baking soda, one of the ingredients in farls.
Baking soda, one of the ingredients in farls.

The bread is rolled into a flat circle, which is then cut into quarters. Each of these quarters is in the shape of what is known as a farl. The standard method of baking the bread is in a pan on the stovetop, rather than the more well-known way of baking bread in an oven. When eaten alone, it is usually consumed while still hot, right after it comes off the stove.

Traditionally, the farl was served alongside stews and gravy dishes, when it was used to mop up the last of the food. It can be buttered or may be served with jam or marmalade on top. There is typically nothing baked into the bread itself, although on special occasions fruit may be added to the mix.

At other times, farls can be used as part of a larger, more complicated dish. An Ulster Fry is a popular item throughout Ireland, especially in the north. A breakfast dish, the base of the Ulster fry is two farls made with potatoes. On top of the farls are other traditional ingredients, such as black pudding, rashers, tomatoes, and sausage.

Regardless of the type of farl, very few ingredients generally are used to make the bread. Potato farls usually contain only potatoes, butter, flour, and salt. In other types, baking soda is used to leaven the bread, which otherwise only contains buttermilk and flour. These same ingredients are often used in the baking of cake, which is a similar round bread that is not cut into quarters. Cake is more popular in the southern part of Ireland, while farls are more commonly seen in the north.

Farls are often eaten with jam or marmalade.
Farls are often eaten with jam or marmalade.

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