James Street South Cookery School: Red onion focaccia and homemade soda farl

Niall McKenna's homemade focaccia with red onion
Niall McKenna

WITH the Great British Bake Off back, everyone I know turns their hands to bread, scones and cakes over the coming months. I'm a huge advocate of baking at home and it is something I always try to get the kids involved in as they love getting their hands dirty and it is important to teach them where their food comes from.

With that in mind, I’m sharing two delicious bread recipes which will hopefully offer up some inspiration and encourage you to dust off those mixing bowls and get your bake on.

Bread is a great starting point for the novice baker, it’s fun to make as there are many different kinds you can experiment with and there’s nothing quite like the taste and smell of freshly baked bread.

Focaccia bread is a favourite of mine – this flat, oven-baked Italian bread can be made with a variety of ingredients and herbs but I’m using red onion in this recipe, which provides a really delicious flavour to the bread.

The traditional soda bread is one of the quickest breads to make and again can be made with your own twist, whether you choose to bake a wheaten soda, or add in fruit such as raisins, berries, or apricots. When I was young, my own granny would have always had at least one dough mix ready for the pan in case anyone should pop in for tea.


300ml tepid water

3 tsp fresh yeast

500g Italian type ‘00’ strong flour plus extra for rolling and dusting

1 tsp fine salt

4 tblsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing

Glug of extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

15g coarse sea salt flakes

1 red onion, sliced thinly


Mix the tepid water and yeast in a small bowl until the yeast is dissolved. Sieve the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in half the liquid and the olive oil and mix together. When it starts to come together add the remaining liquid to form a sticky dough.

Flour a clean surface and knead for 10 minutes, using more flour if necessary. The dough should not be sticky but smooth and elastic.

Oil a bowl and place the dough in; oil some cling film and cover. Leave for up to 90 minutes in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

While the dough is proving, caramelise your red onions in a pot with olive oil and cook until soft – do not burn or over cook. Remove from heat and leave to side.

When the dough has risen, knock out the air with your fist while still in the bowl and leave for 15-20 minutes, covered in cling film again. Oil your baking tray with olive oil and place your dough on to tray – you do not need to manipulate it as it will cook into shape of tray.

Using your finger, gently prong the dough evenly; drizzle olive oil over evenly and scatter with sea salt (Maldon is the brand we use) and the caramelised red onions.

Place in preheated oven to 180C and bake for 25-35 minutes until crusty and hollow-sounding when tapped underneath. Remove and place on cooling tray. Best served warm.



(Makes x4 farls)

450g plain flour

¾ tsp of bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

pinch of sugar

1 tsp vegetable or rapeseed oil

450-500ml buttermilk


To make these, you will need a heavy-bottomed frying pan; an old-fashioned griddle plan will also work.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the oil and 400ml of the buttermilk into the well and mix together to form a dough. The dough should be slack and soft – add more buttermilk if necessary.

Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead (using the palms of both hands, push the dough forward) for one minute. The mix will make one large farl, which is crossed before cooking to make four smaller ones. Alternatively cut the mix into four and make individual round farls, one inch thick, five inches in diameter (they do not have to be perfect rounds).

Place the pan on the heat – it needs to be hot but not smoking as you do not want to burn the farl. Place the farl on the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes each side, if it starts to burn, the pan is too hot, so reduce heat. Once cooked, slice in half and serve with butter.

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