Fries, farls and bakes


They know how to get the day off to a good start in the North, and they’re partial to a wee bun, too, writes DOMINI KEMP

WHETHER YOU CALL it an Ulster fry or Irish breakfast, there’s something utterly care-free about gorging on so much deliciously salty fat and protein before noon. It is also one of the simplest and most delicious meals you can have and I often think it tastes even better when eaten in the evening.

I ploughed through several books to get a few different opinions on what constitutes an Ulster fry, and what is clear is that soda farls play an important part in the proceedings. I can’t remember the last time I made soda bread, which is shameful, but honest.

A bit like speaking a foreign language, I’m always extremely reluctant at the start, but once I stumble through the first few bits of the process, I realise it’s not that scary. Just unfamiliar. Soda bread is particularly good if – like mine – your bread-making skills leave a lot to be desired.

I liked Paula McIntyre’s recipe from her book, A Kitchen Year the best, and added just a little more buttermilk to the recipe. It only needs the briefest of kneading and the texture was remarkably like those rubber balls people squeeze to alleviate stress. In other words, it’s a rather pleasing and relaxing texture. Soft, but not sticky, so it makes you want to keep kneading – which you don’t need to do. In fact, you’ll ruin it, so stop kneading and buy a stress ball instead.

Apparently, some old caffs throw the soda farls into deep fat fryers, but this is a cardinal sin and if you contemplate such heresy against the Ulster fry, then you should put those eggs down and stop right now.

McIntyre (and many chefs) recommend cutting the dough into quarters and then frying them on a griddle pan for about eight minutes on each side. But I found this didn’t work too well as the inside was too raw. So I decided to put the seared bits of bread into the oven at 180 degees/gas 4 and bake for about 25 minutes until I got the desired hollow sound when I tapped the base.

Tray bakes are big news in Ulster: there’s one called a Fifteen – with 15 ingredients including cherries, marshmallows, condensed milk and chocolate chips – which sounded a bit too scary.

Instead, I borrowed a gluten-free cookie recipe from a pal Sinead, who reluctantly gave me the recipe as she kept protesting that it’s an assembly job rather than hard and fast baking. But we ate them one day at her house and they were gorgeous. I didn’t believe how easy they were, or even what was in them till I made them. They can be done as a tray bake, but actually work better as mini cookies.

Ulster fry

Buy the best of everything for this. Good sausages, bacon and eggs. Make the soda bread recipe below. In a large frying pan, start with a knob of butter and splash of olive or rapeseed oil. Fry your rashers, then add the sausages. You may have to remove the rashers for a few minutes to finish the sausages. Then make a little room and add the soda farls. They will soak up all that excess fat which will taste wonderful. Make a little more room and add some cherry tomatoes or a couple of halved tomatoes. Then when everything looks ready, crack a couple of eggs on the pan and leave on a low heat to finish off. Once it looks reasonably set, dig in, preferably straight from the pan.

Wheaten farls

Makes about eight farls

200g wholewheat flour

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

275ml buttermilk

Preheat an oven to 190 degrees/gas 5. Mix everything together with a spoon, then bring together and knead – for about 30 seconds – on a lightly floured surface. Shape into a flat ball, then flatten to an (approximately) 10-centimetre round. Cut into quarters.

Heat up a frying pan and dry fry the quarters (possibly two at a time) in the pan until nicely brown and crisp enough to turn over. Once they are all browned, place them on a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes until they sound hollow when tapped. Allow them to cool and then slice each quarter in half, horizontally, to give you two farls to fry.

Ginger crunch

From the Modern Pantry cookbook.

Makes 12 slices, use a 11 x 34cm tin, lined with parchment paper.

150g plain flour

25g cornflour

100g caster sugar

1 good tsp ground ginger

Goof pinch baking powder

Pinch salt

100g butter


150g icing sugar

115g butter

3 tbsp golden syrup

4 tsp ground ginger

Preheat an oven to 160 degrees/gas 3. Sieve all the dry ingredients together, then add the butter and process to form coarse crumbed pastry which will come together. Press this into the tin and bake for 20 minutes. Then make the topping. Heat all the ingredients together. When the shortbread comes out of the oven, pour the icing on top. After 30 minutes, slice and then allow to cool fully.

Sinead and Ella’s cookies

1 x 397g can of condensed milk

1 jar of smooth peanut butter (approx 340g)

A handful of plain choc chips, about 150g

A handful of raisins, about 75g

Preheat an oven to 190 degrees/gas 5. Mix the condensed milk and jar of peanut butter together in a large bowl and throw in the chocolate pieces and raisins. Line a couple of baking trays with parchment paper. Take a spoon of mixture and with clean hands roll it into a small ball and flatten onto the lined tray. Repeat, leaving at least an inch between each. You will be amazed how many cookies you will get ( at least three trays). Place on the middle shelf in the oven and cook till golden (about 10-15 minutes). When they’re cool, use a spatula to ease the cookies off the paper.

You’re invited to our food quiz Join Domini Kemp, John Wilson and the ‘Irish Times Saturday Magazine’ for a food quiz night at The Restaurant, Brown Thomas, Dublin on Thursday, July 12th at 6.30pm. Tickets, €45, will include a three-course dinner with wine. Prizes will include tickets to Leonard Cohen and Electric Picnic and spot prizes from Brown Thomas. To book, email or tel: 087-6642986

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