Barmbrack (Traditional Irish Halloween Bread)

Every year around Halloween, I plan on making Barmbrack and every year I get busy and it doesn’t happen. Well not this year. This year I made sure to get it done and hopefully it becomes a tradition in this house.

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Barmbrack is an Irish sweet bread that’s filled with dried fruit. It’s often dense and similar to fruit cake. It has always been made during Halloween (or Samhain) as part of the festivities. Traditionally, little trinkets are baked inside of the bread and whichever trinket you get, represents your future. You could find a pea (you would not marry that year), a stick (destined for an unhappy marriage), a piece of cloth (bad luck or poverty), a small coin (good fortune or wealth), or a ring (you would be married within the year).

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Some recipes call for yeast, making the bread a bit lighter and less dense, and some recipes call for baking powder with tea soaked fruit, making a tea brack. It is usually served toasted with a good slather of butter and a nice hot cup of tea. The recipe I used this year contains the baking powder and tea soaked fruit, though next year (or maybe later this week) I think I’ll make the yeast version and compare. For your benefit, I’ve included both recipes. Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

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BARMBRACK (TEA BRACK)

INGREDIENTS:

225g All-purpose flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

375g mixed dried fruit (such as sultanas, raisins, and citrus peel or dried figs, dried cranberries, and dried blueberries)

1 cup cold brewed tea (such as Irish Breakfast or Earl Grey)

1/4 cup Irish whiskey

125g light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp mixed spice (basically pumpkin pie spice)

DIRECTIONS:

Place the fruit mix in a bowl and pour over the cold brewed tea and whiskey. Cover and allow to soak for several hours or overnight. This will help to plump the fruit.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line a 2 lb loaf pan with parchment paper. Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center, break the egg, and using a wooden spoon, begin to mix the egg into the dry ingredients. Add the liquid from the soaking fruit a little at a time and mix thoroughly. You should have a fairly wet dough.

Stir in the fruit until combined. If adding a ring or any other trinket, wrap in wax paper, and stir.

Spoon the batter into a lined loaf pan and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for about one hour.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack.

Note: If you can resist the temptation, wrap in plastic wrap and foil for one to two days then slice.

 

YEASTED BARMBRACK

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups Strong black tea
  • 2 cups Dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, etc.)
  • 1 cup Milk, lukewarm
  • 1 (1/4 ounce) package Active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 Egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup Butter, unsalted, softened
  • 1 tsp Salt

DIRECTIONS:

  • Place the tea and dried fruit in a bowl and let soak for at least one hour, preferably overnight.
  • Mix the yeast, warm milk and 2 teaspoons of sugar together in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and spices. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, beaten egg, butter and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour if the dough is too wet or a little more milk if it is too dry.
  • Remove the dough to a floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.
  • Drain the dried fruit and knead a little at a time into the dough until all the fruit has been incorporated.
  • Remove the dough to a large, lightly buttered bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and punch down to deflate. Knead lightly for 2 to 3 minutes. Form into a ball and placed in a buttered 8-inch cake pan. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in size, about an hour.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove to a rack and cool.
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