Donal Skehan says those fluffy rolls pictured above are lightest and most delicious dinner rolls he’s ever made – and the secret is potato.
Skehan’s cheesy Irish potato rolls are, like other members of Ireland’s potato bread family, an excellent way to use up mashed potato. Whether you’ve got time to make Skehan’s yeasted rolls, or you’re after a quick frying pan bread, mashed potato could ask for no better fate.
Boxty is a potato pancake made with a combination of mashed and grated potato; champ is a potato and green onion mash; there's also colcannon, a hearty combination of potato and cabbage; while fadge and farls are both flatbreads … Delicious, chewy flatbreads, and thus cousins, of sorts, with Skehan’s more modern take on Irish potato bread.
You’d use the mashed potato from the night’s before dinner, and you’d just add flour and butter and salt to it, just flatten it down and fry it in pan, and that's your potato bread.
“When you're talking about a potato bread in Ireland, it’s a flatbread,” explains Sydney’s Irish baker, Gerard ‘Paddy’ Winston, of Paddy the Baker, a business that’s been a familiar sight at food markets across the city for the past decade.
“It's called potato bread, potato cakes, potato scones, it's called fadge in some parts of Ireland, and tattie scones in Scotland, it's got all the different names, but it's ultimately the same thing.”
Paddy the Baker sells regular and gluten-free versions this traditional Irish flatbread at the markets. A circle about the size of a small dinner plate, each bread is scored into quarters, to make it easy to tear into pieces.
It’s something he remembers fondly from his life in Ireland before he moved to Australia with his wife and five children a little over 10 years ago.
“Potato bread was a staple. You’d use the mashed potato from the night’s before dinner, and you’d just add flour and butter and salt to it, just flatten it down and fry it in a pan, and that's your potato bread. Some people leaven it with a little bit of baking powder, to just rise it a little bit, but a lot of people don't.
Like the version he sells at the markets, Irish potato bread is traditionally round. “In Ireland, if you buy the commercial ones, they are often square, but [homemade] they're usually round and cut into quarters. If you’ve heard of a potato farl, well, farl is Irish for quarter, so that just means potato quarters.”
You can give it a go yourself with his recipe for potato farls, which are delicious fresh but can also be made up to two days ahead; reheat them in a dry frying pan. Winston suggests serving them with eggs and bacon – for extra indulgence, he says, fry the bread in the bacon fat! Or serve them with eggs and beans, as he remembers eating them for tea in Ireland.
Winston, a self-taught baker, is also a fan of what mashed potato can do to a yeasted loaf.
“I don’t think that’s a traditional Irish thing, but you'll see it now in some Irish recipe books and I've made in the past.
“I used to make this little potato loaf and it was fabulous. It wasn't really the potato-y, it was just a really lovely, soft white bread. The potato made it softer and moister than flour alone, I think.” If you're making mash specifically for bread, Winston suggests opting for a floury potato, rather than a waxy variety.
Skehan, too, says it’s the mashed potato that makes his rolls light and moist. “It sounds like a strange ingredient, but it results in the most beautiful, moist, light and airy yeast rolls you will ever make," he says. (Get the recipe here.)
For those who like the science of baking, here’s a neat little fact: the traditional Irish flatbread and a yeasted loaf or roll dough use roughly inverse proportions of potato.
“A potato bread loaf that you're going to make in a tin would be about 70% flour, 30% potato, maybe 80-20, whereas a potato bread in the pan, that's about 70% potato and 30% flour,” says Winston.
Here’s another delightful number: 15. That’s about how long it takes to make Winston’s potato farls if you are using leftover potato. Even better number: 2. That’s about how many minutes it takes us to demolish a potato farl or one of Skehan’s cheesy rolls.
Watch Donal's Irish Kitchen weeknights at 5.30pm on SBS Food. In series 4, starting 12 May, Donal Skehan looks at the past 50 years of Irish cooking; watch him making his potato rolls in episode 5, on Monday 18 May. After they air, episodes will be available at SBS On Demand. As markets re-open, find out where you can find Paddy the Baker by keeping an eye on the website and Instagram.
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