#Pili’sBritishBakeOff – January
Happy New Year!
After twenty years in the UK, it was high time I have a go at British bakery! I asked Santa for Regula Ysewijn’s new cookbook, Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: the history of British baking, savoury and sweet and I plan to make one or two recipes a month. Follow me and my journey if you’re interested in learning about the topic.
What’s a scone?
We could define a scone as a type of sweet or savoury bun or cake, but there are other types as you will soon see. My first resource is always the Larousse Gastronomique, which defines scone (biscuits) as:
“A small round cake made of raised dough, which may be sweet or savoury, eaten at breakfast or for tea, usually served hot, split in half and buttered. Originating in Scotland, it is soft and light inside and has a brown crust.”
The Larousse is describing the traditional scone you find in British tearooms and eat with clotted cream and jam, like those on the middle shelf of Montagu Arms afternoon tea tray. The savoury version is less known among foreigners, I’d say. Keep an eye out for my next post.
My scones today are… flatbreads, flat cakes if you like! I’ve always known them as farls, but Ysewijn uses the term tattie scones. Alas, the Larousse has no entries for either of them.
What are tattie scones or farls?
Tattie scone and farl are both Scottish terms. Tattie is short for –you guessed it– potatoes. Tattie scones are indeed potato flatbreads. Farl was “a fourth” in Middle English, and potato farl cakes are indeed traditionally cut in four. This is true of my recipe and is how they are sold, in packs of four, at least in my experience. As someone from Galicia with in-laws in Ireland, it made sense for me to start my British baking journey in potato land.
Who eats tattie scones?
Potato farls, are part of the Northern-Irish Ulster fry-up, similar to an English breakfast except for the farls (correct me if you know of other major differences). If you are foreign, don’t dispair, potato farls are not the same as soda farls, another bread eaten in Ireland, without potatoes. Ysewijn notes that potato flatbreads are also traditional in Iceland and Norway, and I know they also exist in Finland.
When to eat tattie scones?
In our Irish/Galician family of two, a packet of potato farls disappears within seconds: no toasting no butter; bite, close your eyes, concentrate, gone, repeat. Two each. They’re incredibly moreish and their texture is delightfully soft and soothing. But what about others?
Scottish translator Alison Hughes, specialised in the luxury and wine industries, calls them tattie scones and loves them fried with a breakfast. The Scottish pan fry them with no or very little oil (my recipe used butter) and eat them smothered in butter or fried with a breakfast.
As a child, lucky Northern Irish translator Miranda Joubioux, specialised in food and gastronomy as well as sailing and architecture, would have a choice between potato cakes and Scottish pancakes for her afternoon tea. They were toasted and served with lashings of butter, or jam and butter (I think she might be remembering soda farls instead of Scottish pancakes because I can’t imagine jam on potato farls, but I don’t know.) As in Scotland, they also ate them as part of the Ulster fry. Her mother would refuse to eat them down south (Southern Ireland, I understand) because they did not taste as good! Read on to find out why.
Translator Sarah Swift, specialised in humanities, politics and museums, makes farls with barely enough flour to keep them together as her mother, from the Irish midlands, would make them. It appears that the Ulster version, or fadge (yep, another name…), uses a bit more flour (five parts potato to two parts flour says expert Paula McIntyre MBE in this video recipe for fadge). Paula also shows us a version with part cornmeal and another with oats replacing the flour.
There are more versions, according to Sarah: a half-pancake made with buttermilk and a raising agent (soda farls perhaps?), and recipes that use grated raw potatoes or various mixtures of cooked and raw potatoes. Feeling like a beginner in FarlLand or TattieLand? No worries, me too.
What to eat with tattie scones?
I asked my foodie British colleagues about their likes and traditions.
In Galway, Sarah used to have a restaurant near her office that served farls topped with red onion marmalade and melted white cheddar, served with a side salad. Red onion marmalade, yum! She also recommends them with smoked salmon and cream cheese, salted butter or caraway seeds and butter.
Both her and Irish translator Yvonne Gallagher find Ulster versions floury and dry so add egg to their recipe. Yvonne fries hers and pairs them with fried onions, an egg and baked beans. She reckons they would also go well with sour cream, the same as latkes, veronikas and pierogis.
Hungry? No shortage of options to try, my friend!
Tattie scone tips
British translator, food and gardening blogger Claire Cox always makes extra mash potato to have leftovers for potato cakes. An experienced cook, Claire just adds flour until the consistency feels right (not too wet, not too thick), rolls out on a floured baking sheet, bakes in a hot oven for about 20 mins until golden brown, and eats them with lashings of butter, as her mother would make them in NW England.
As I Irish Yvonne and Sarah add a beaten egg to the dough to help with binding. Sarah thinks you could vary the butter content but, if you started with buttery mash, you’d need lots of flour. Therefore, she recommends adding the butter to the finished product or otherwise frying them in half oil and half butter. She likes to throw in a few sage leaves for fun, not because it’s an Irish tradition but because butter, hard cheese and sage make good friends. Clever!
Any more ideas for pairings? I think buttery fried mushrooms are definitely a good one. Otherwise, I had mine with an organic fried egg and very crispy organic streaky bacon, and it was… divine!
Tattie scone recipes
I can’t give you mine because of copyright, but I have a similar recipe for farls from Olive magazine, which uses a little less flour than mine. If you’re team Yvonne and Sarah, you’ll be pleased! Or watch Paula McIntyre MBE’s video for fadge, which shows you three different varieties: Ulster potato bread or fadge recipe.
Interesting fact: fadge has different meanings in Ireland and Scotland.
Fancy trying other varieties of potato bread? I’ve got you covered.
Drop scones vs American pancakes
I’d hate to leave you without yet another word I learnt during my research: drop scones! Another Scottish term, this time for Scottish pancakes of the American type. Well, not quite, read the recommended article and find out! Thought English was easy? Why aren’t scones just called buns and why are pancakes called scones, and why are scones called fadge, and why aren’t all farls born the same, you ask? I get you: it’s a tricky world the world of languages and food translation…
- Encyclopaedia Britannica online
- Foodie Translators
- Larousse Gastronomique, Hamlyn, 2009
- Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary
- Oats from the North, Wheat from the South: The History of British Baking, Savoury and Sweet, Regula Ysewijn, Murdoch Books, 2020