Irish Barmbrack Bread (Yeasted version) – Part I of the Battle of the Bracks!

October 27, 2015

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Irish Barmbrack Bread

  • Servings: 1 large loaf
  • Difficulty: fairly easy - but keep in mind there is an overnight soak for the fruit as well as two rising times for the dough
  • Print

recipe adapted from: Seasons and Suppers

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Enjoy!

Irish Barmbrack Bread Brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 

 

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Mini Mummy Brownie Bite Cupcakes

October 31, 2014

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Are you my Mummy? Ha! I couldn’t resist! Happy Halloween ya’ll! I thought I’d celebrate with some adorable Mini Mummy Brownie Bite Cupcakes. These little devils are actually pint-sized rich and chewy brownies chock full of mini chocolate chips and all wrapped up in Vanilla Buttercream “bandages”. Spooky in an adorable sort of way and definitely delicious!

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I really love Halloween! I think it might actually be my favourite holiday. I know last year I was lamenting that the husband and I have not attended a proper Halloween party since 2010 and I am sad to say that we have no Halloween plans yet again this year, Booo! (Ha! get it….”boo”) aside from these delightful little Mummy Cupcakes, that is. I have actually made quite a few fantastic Halloween treats in years past. Probably my all time favourite was the Soul Cake.

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It might just be the historian in me that makes me love it so much, because truth be told, unlike most sugar laden, tooth-achingly sweet candies found in abundance on Halloween, these little cake like cookies are only mildly sweet. There is not a speck of chocolate to be found in them, only a few currants top the cakes arranged in a cross pattern. What can I say, sometimes less is more. Here is a little bit from my Soul Cake blog post which talks about the origins of Halloween and the Soul Cake connection.

Our modern Halloween celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun-god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our Halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. As Christian beliefs took hold, Samhain celebrations became re-branded as All Soul’s Eve. By the eighth century beggars, rather than the spirits from the other world, would travel door to door on this night. In exchange for their prayers for the family’s departed, they were given a small cake, known as a Soul Cake.

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Last year I did some very tasty Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars.

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But enough reminiscing. Lets talk about these awesome tiny terrors from this year, the Mini Mummy Brownie Bites.

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They are actually very easy to make from scratch. In fact I would recommend making up the brownie bites the day before you need them and then making the frosting and decorating them the next day. I chose to go with the smaller brownie bites baked in a mini cupcake tin. I find mini bite sized things go over much better at a party. And they are super cute….And that you can eat more than one and not feel any guilt about it… after all, they’re just a wee little tiny bit of a thing. But you could also go for full size manly mummy cupcakes baked in a regular cupcake tin. Whatever you prefer. This is a very versatile recipe. Indeed, if you are really pressed for time, you could even throw the recipe to the wind and whip up a box of brownie mix and use some store-bought frosting for decorating. Likely no one but you and I will know and I’m not talking!

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Happy Hauntings!

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Mini Mummy Brownie Bite Cupcakes

  • Servings: 48 - 52 Mini Mummies or 18 Big Kahuna Mummies
  • Difficulty: easy to ridiculously easy
  • Print

Recipe from: A Baker’s Field Guide to Cupcakes by Dede Wilson

Ingredients:

For the Brownie Cupcakes:

  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into squares
  • 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips ( if you are making the big mummy cupcakes you could use regular sized chips)

For the Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar; plus an additional 1/2 cup if necessary
  • 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Decorate:

  • 96 mini chocolate chips to form the pupils of the eyes (36 regular chips if you are making big mummies)
  • food coloring to tint the buttercream for the eyes
  • round piping tip
  • Ateco or Wilton tip #47 (basketweave tip – use the smooth side rather than the ridged side, for bandages or wraps)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place paper liners in all wells of cupcake tins

Melt chocolate and butter together in top of large double boiler or in large bowl in microwave; stir until smooth and combined, then cool to lukewarm.

Whisk in brown sugar until well blended. then whisk in eggs one at a time, allowing each one to become incorporated before adding the next one. Whisk in vanilla extract and salt. Add flour and mini chocolate chips, if using, at the same time and fold in until no streaks of flour remain.

Divide batter evenly among cupcake wells. Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows moist crumbs. The tops will be dry and crackled in appearance.

Cool pans on racks for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cooling racks to cool completely.

Make the frosting. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar gradually. I usually do about 1 -2 tablespoons at a time, waiting for each addition to be incorporated before adding the next tablespoons. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Add 1 more cup of sugar slowly and then half of the milk. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add 1 more cup of sugar, again slowly, then add the remaining milk. Beat well and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the final cup of sugar and the vanilla extract. Beat on high speed until very light and creamy. Evaluate the texture of the icing. If too soft, add remaining sugar until desired texture is reached.

To Assemble the Mummies:

Place cupcakes on clean work surface. Place frosting in a pastry bag fitted with tip #47. Pipe frosting onto cupcake to form mummy’s bandages or wraps. (Make sure you reserve a bit of frosting to tint for the eyes).

Tint remaining frosting whatever color you prefer for the mummy’s spooky glowing eyes: red, yellow, green or blue all work well. Fit another pastry bag with a round tip and pipe eyes onto each mummy cupcake. Insert chocolate morsels, tip side down, in the center of the eyes.

Enjoy!

Mini Mummy Brownie Bite Cupcakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

 

 


Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars

October 31, 2013

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Happy Halloween! I LOVE Halloween. Our neighborhood, which is near “Sleepy Hollow” (I kid you not!) is all decked out in all of its spooky finery

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I’ve noticed quite a few new residents

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who seem to be getting up to all sorts of mischief

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and well some of them are just downright creepy!

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I am so sad to say that the husband and I have not attended a proper Halloween costume party since 2010! I am simply appalled!! Unfortunately that trend is continuing this year as we have no big plans at all. As I mentioned in my last blog, things around here are craaaaZy (that’s right…with a capital Z) right now. I had all sorts of plans for the Halloween goodies I was going to conjure up for you. I’ve made some really fun treats in the past. I think my all time favourite Halloween creation is the Soul Cake.

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It might just be the historian in me that makes me love it so much, because truth be told, unlike most sugar laden, tooth-achingly sweet candies found in abundance on Halloween, these little cake like cookies are only mildly sweet. There is not a speck of chocolate to be found in them, only a few currants top the cakes arranged in a cross pattern. What can I say, sometimes less is more. Here is a little bit from my Soul Cake blog post which talks about the origins of Halloween and the Soul Cake connection.

Our modern Halloween celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun-god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our Halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. As Christian beliefs took hold, Samhain celebrations became re-branded as All Soul’s Eve. By the eighth century beggars, rather than the spirits from the other world, would travel door to door on this night. In exchange for their prayers for the family’s departed, they were given a small cake, known as a Soul Cake.

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I also was quite fond of these Halloween Popcorn Balls I made back in 2011.

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The husband is a big fan of popcorn. He would be quite happy to eat it every day. And I think his love of popcorn has rubbed off on our pup. He actually recognizes that word now and can make it into our kitchen from anywhere in the house in less than 10 seconds when he hears the telltale rattle of the popcorn kernels hitting the metal pan.

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Alas, all I could manage to get done this year was this batch of Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars. Yup, there sure is popcorn in this treat. I figured if I could only get one of my intended treats done, I would pick one that I knew would make the husband very happy. And turns out this one was a real winner!

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Believe me, if you find yourself a little short on time today and haven’t managed to conjure up any fabulous holiday treats, this might be the recipe for you. But let me tell you about these little devils. The bottom layer is a cookie dough crust. I used chocolate chips and those Halloween white chocolate Candy Corn M&M’s that can be found this time of year. I am so thankful that they are only found around this time of year, because those things are similar to the Cadbury Mini Eggs for me…pure crack! I could literally eat them until I popped….or more likely until the top button popped off my britches! So as happy as I am to see them arrive in stores, I am somewhat relieved when they disappear again. But back to the recipe, if you aren’t as fond as I am of the Candy Corn M&M’s (I can’t imagine!) you can throw in a cup of whatever candy you like and customize it to fit your taste. The original recipe I had for these uses Reese’s peanut butter cups, which I think would be delicious as well. I am a big fan of the Reese Cup, but I was really trying to Halloween things up around here so the candy corn colours of the M&M’s won out. On top of that great cookie base you will find a thin cream layer, similar to what you find sandwiched in the middle of a Oreo cookie. The top layer consists of gooey salted caramel coated popcorn, which has been drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Good grief! They are amazing! I think I chose well.

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Although there are several steps involved in making these bars, they are all pretty quick and easy. Make sure you allow for cooling time for the bottom cookie layer as well as at least 1 hour or so for the bars to set before cutting them. If you want to make them look even more “Halloween-y” you could sprinkle some candy corn over the caramel popcorn layer or even some Candy Corn M&M’s that you have left over from the cookie base. I’m sure you know by now that I did not have any “left over” M&M’s by the time I was adding the salted caramel popcorn layer. Nope I promptly inhaled the rest of the bag shortly after it was opened. I had to keep my strength up in the kitchen, I had no choice. But you might be able to exercise some self-control and set a few aside. Although I really wish the husband and I were getting all dressed up tonight and heading out to a fancy party to celebrate Halloween, I guess there is always next year. I definitely feel somewhat less deprived finding myself in possession of these sinfully delicious, salty sweet bars. Or maybe it is them who have possessed me……Mwa-hah-hah! Happy Halloween!

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Cookies & Cream Salted Caramel Popcorn Bars

recipe slightly adapted from: Half Baked Harvest

yield: 18 -20 bars depending on how you slice them

Ingredients:

For the Cookie Layer

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup Halloween Candy Corn M&M’s (or your favourite)

For the Cream Layer

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Salted Caramel Popcorn

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar + 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup butterscotch chips
  • flaked sea salt
  • 5 cups popped popcorn
  • melted chocolate for drizzling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13″ baking tin or line in with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl until creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and the 2 teaspoons water. Fold in the chocolate chips and M&M’s (or candy of your choice.)

Spread the dough into the prepared pan. Bake 18 – 25 minutes, until just set in the center. Allow to cool completely before adding the cream layer. You can pop the pan into the freezer or fridge to accelerate the cooling process if you are pressed for time.

Once the cookie layer is cool, make the cream layer. In a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar slowly. I usually do 1 heaping Tablespoon at a time. It will be less gritty if you add the sugar slowly. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until smooth. Spread the cream over the cookie layer.

Now for the caramel popcorn. Combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once it begins to boil watch closely and whisk until the mixture starts to smell like caramel. This will take about 5-6 minutes. Add the butter cubes and slowly pour in the cream, whisking constantly. Continue to heat over medium-high until the mixture has thickened, about 5 -10 minutes more. rEmove from the heat and stir in the butterscotch chips, vanilla and a good pinch of salt. Stir until smooth. Place the popcorn in a large bowl and pour the caramel over it. Toss well and then spread the popcorn over the cream layer. Melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips and drizzle over the top. Sprinkle with a good amount of flaked sea salt. If you would like to add some additional candy decoration such as candy corn or the elusive “left-over” Candy Corn M&Ms, do so now. Let sit at least 1 hour before cutting. You can place them in the ridge to help them set faster. Cut into bars.

Enjoy!


Happy Halloween!!!

October 31, 2010

 

Arwen Witch

 

Arrrgh...me matey!

I LOVE Halloween! Unfortunately this year, Jay and I did not have an actual costume party to attend. We’ve had a lot of fun with our outfits in the past years, and had even started to get something together for this one, but I supose it will have to wait until next year.

 

Amish Halloween 2006

Space Odyssey 2008

Steam Punked 2009

At the last minute, we decided to have a few folks over on the Saturday before All Hallow’s Eve for some adult beverages, a bonfire and weenie roast.

Princess Giuliane was in attendance

All Hallow's Snacks

Spooky Halloween fog!

Our modern Halloween celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. As Christian beliefs took hold, Samhain celebrations became re-branded as All Soul’s Eve. By the eighth century beggars, rather than the spirits from the other world, would travel door to door on this night. In exchange for their prayers for the family’s departed, they were given a small cake, known as a Soul Cake. Paying homage to the history of my favourite holiday, I made some soul cakes for our gathering.

Soul Cakes

They are a mildly sweet, spicy cross between a cookie and a cake that is topped with currants. Perhaps more of a historical novelty than a culinary delight, but fun to have nevertheless. Thanks to all who stopped by and Happy Halloween!

The Dread Pirate Arwen


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