I can’t believe it! Halloween is nearly upon us!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween and am happy to see it here. It is pretty much my favourite holiday. I mean what’s there not to like…dressing up in funny clothes, partaking in a few tricks and treats, eating tons of candy and washing it down with even more booze. Woohoo! Bring me more holidays like that! It just kind of crept up on me….which is exactly what you’d expect from Halloween I guess. Today I thought I’d share a recipe for a Halloween treat that is traditionally eaten in Ireland – Barmbrack or as it is also known Báirín Breac. Breac means “speckled” which this bread definitely is, being shot through with whiskey and tea soaked raisins, sultanas and cranberries. Báirín can either be the word for “loaf” which would make sense since that would make its name be “speckled loaf” in English. However, I’ve also come across the theory that Barm is derived from the word “beorma”, which refers to a fermented liquor which would have been used back in the day to rise the cake.
Barmbrack is a bit sweeter than your average sandwich bread but it is not as rich as a cake. It was traditionally baked up on Halloween as part of an ancient fortune-telling ritual. Yup. Several different trinkets or charms (perhaps the origin of that “lucky charm” bit…) were wrapped in parchment paper and baked into the bread. When the bread was sliced and handed out, your future was foretold by whatever bit you found in your portion. A wedding ring meant you’d be married within the year, a pea meant that you would not, a coin signified wealth, whereas a piece of rag meant a lean year, a thimble predicted a spinster and button meant bachelorhood was in your future. I chose not to include any trinkets in my bread. I’m a bit wary of any divination. Even a fortune cookie gives me pause. But feel free to partake as you will! Many Bracks sold commercially today still include a ring, though none of the other lucky charms.
When I set out to make Barmbrack, I quickly discovered that there were two different types of the bread to be found, a yeasted version and a non-yeasted version which was more like a tea bread. I couldn’t decide which one I should do, so I chose to do both and hold a sort of “Battle of the Bracks” to see which one we preferred. Today I’m going to give you the yeasted version and make sure you check back tomorrow, because I’ll be telling you all about the tea bread version. I found the yeasted Barmbrack to be delicious – light, airy, slightly sweet and spicy (in a nutmeg/cinnamon/clove kind of way – not my usual set your tongue alight kind of way.) It was lovely still warm from the oven, but even better I think when toasted and slathered in butter! Now the downside to this bread is that being a yeast bread, there is a bit of a time commitment here. Both Bracks require that the fruit be soaked in a whiskey/tea mixture overnight. But this loaf also requires 2 rising times as well as all of the kneading that is necessary to incorporate the fruit. Now I would say it was totally worth all the effort. But you should keep in mind that pretty much every yeast bread out there makes me swoon and upon the first bite I forget how much work went into making it. And although this bread is usually served as a Halloween treat, I’m sure no one would be sorry to see it turn up on the table any time of the year. And with its Irish pedigree, it might even make a lovely addition to your St. Patrick’s Day table. Make sure you check back in tomorrow to hear all about the challenger in this Battle of the Bracks – Irish Tea Barmbrack with a Whiskey Butter Honey Glaze!
Irish Barmbrack Bread
recipe adapted from: Seasons and Suppers
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup sultanas
- 1/2 cup cranberries
- 2 cups strong brewed black tea
- 1/4 cup Irish Whiskey
- 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoon dry active or instant yeast
- 6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
- zest of one lemon
- 1 cup milk
- 1 large egg, beaten
- milk and Demerara sugar for brushing over the top
Brew 2 cups of hot tea and allow to cool to lukewarm. Stir in 1/4 cup Irish Whiskey. Place the fruit in a medium glass bowl and pour tea/whiskey mixture over it. Stir and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Leave to soak on the counter overnight.
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, combine 4 cups of the flour, spices, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. With a pastry cutter or your fingers (or with the paddle attachment on your mixer), work in the butter in to the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. (If you are using dry active yeast, rather than instant yeast, add it to the lukewarm milk – which will be detailed in the following step – and allow it to proof for 5 minutes before adding it to the dough.)
Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat warm the milk to 110° F – 115°F. Beat the egg into the milk and then stir into the dry ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon or switch to the kneading hook on a stand mixer. Knead by hand or with the kneading hook until dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl (adding more flour in small increments, as necessary).
Drain the raisins and add to the dough. I know this sounds pretty easy, but this is likely the most difficult bit of this recipe! Don’t lose heart though, all of that fruit will eventually get mixed in. Sprinkling a bit of flour over the well drained fruit does make it a bit easier to incorporate it. Work the fruit in, adding a bit more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth dough that is not sticky.
Remove dough to a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size.
Grease an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or baking pan and pre-heat oven to 400° F.
Turn risen dough out on to a floured surface. Press lightly to de-gas, then form in to a round by pinching the dough underneath. Place dough round in to prepared pan. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise until puffy, about 30 minutes more.
Brush top of bread with milk or cream and sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, then check the bread. If it is nicely browned, cover top loosely with a piece of tinfoil, then continue cooking for an additional 20 minutes or so, or until an internal temperature of about 195°F about 40 – 50 minutes total. Let cool completely before cutting into slices.
Irish Barmbrack Bread Brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)