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Irish Barmbrack loaf on parchment paper with trick or treat sign

Irish Barm Brack, or báirín breac, is a traditional, sweet, Irish Halloween bread that’s speckled with dried fruit and flavoured with Irish whiskey and strong tea. Hidden inside, as every good Irish person knows, are a clutch of small tokens that foretell one’s future: a ring for marriage, a coin for wealth, a soup-pea for poverty and a thimble for a life of spinsterhood or bachelorhood.

Not so long ago, it was the pride of every Irish homemaker to have a loaf, made from scratch, sitting on her kitchen counter at this time of year. Unfortunately, the world has changed, and with prices ranging from .89¢ to €2.99 for a loaf, hardly anyone makes it at home any more.

I hope this Quick Barm Brack might change a few minds. There’s no yeast in this recipe, so there’s no rising time. You can have a loaf mixed up and in your oven before you can recite a verse of Oiche Shamhna! 

Quick Irish Barm Back

Serves 10-12 slices

Ingredients

50ml/2oz/1/4 cup Irish whiskey

250ml/8oz/1 cup cold Irish tea

150g/5oz/1 cup raisins

150g/5oz/1 cup sultanas

50g/1.8oz/1/3 cup mixed peel

225g/8oz/2 cups self-raising flour

125g/4oz/scant 1 cup brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (pumpkin spice works too)

Directions

1. Place the raisins, sultanas and mixed peel in a bowl. Pour over the whiskey and cold tea. Leave overnight to soak up the liquid.

2. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/325°F. Grease and line a 900g/2lb loaf tin or a 20cm/8″ round cake tin with parchment paper.

3. Combine the flour, sugar, egg, and mixed spice in a bowl. Stir well.

4. Strain the fruit from the liquid and add to the flour. Stir well. Slowly, a little at a time, add the fruit-liquid to the flour until the dough looks wet.  You may not use up all the liquid.

5. Add in a ring, a coin, a soup-pea, and a thimble, wrapped in parchment paper, and stir through.

6. Transfer to the lined loaf tin. Use an off set spatula to smooth the top. Place in the oven on the middle shelf. Bake for 1 hour or until fully cooked.

7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin. Cool on a wire rack.

8. Wrap in cling film (plastic wrap) and tin foil. Keep for 2 days before cutting. Serve sliced with heaps of butter and a good cup of tea.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:

* To see my traditional Irish Barm Brack yeast recipe, please click: Traditional Irish Barm Black.

** For other Halloween-inspired recipes from our Irish home, please click: ColcannonApple Cake, and Halloween Marshmallow Pops, And to learn more about how the Irish invented Halloween, click here: Halloween and The Irish. And click Irish Halloween Folklore for a short history lesson from Irish Archeology about Halloween in Irish Folklore.

*** A recipe for Brioche Barmbrack may be found over at Gastrogays…and here’s Bibliocook’s recipe for Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding – yum!

**** Oíche Shamhna – A Witch in Armagh on Halloween Night – this video is really well done and is in Irish with English subtitles. I think the wee ones in your home might enjoy it!

 

 

 

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October is a beautiful time in Ireland. The weather is crisp and cool, leaves are turning and falling, fires are seriously stoked in the evenings, and the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice fills the air. It is all so wonderful. As the month comes to an end, there is a growing excitement for Halloween night to arrive. In our Irish home the children have already selected their costumes and started to make plans.

Our youngest will be out trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood with a group of friends, while our eldest, who feels she is too old to dress up and go begging for candy, will be at home with her cohorts celebrating with a real old-fashioned Irish Halloween party.

In keeping with the customs of long ago, there will be a bonfire, fireworks, bobbing for apples, bowls of nuts and fruits, Colcannon (a dish of mashed potatoes, kale and onions), and a Bram Brack, a fruit filled bread traditionally eaten on and around Halloween.

Irish Barm BrackThe Bram Brack will have small items, wrapped in greaseproof paper (parchment paper), baked inside as a means for fortune-telling. A ring will symbolise love or marriage, a coin for wealth, a soup-pea for poverty, and a thimble for a life of spinsterhood or bachelorhood.

Interestingly, the recipe I’m using comes from Young Housewife’s Cookery Book by Brigid Russell. Published in 1928, the book was written for housewives “untrained in cookery skills”…in other words…the self-taught home-chef like me!

In preparation for this blog post and the party, I baked a loaf of Barm Brack over the weekend. It turned out really well, though I felt the recipe lacked complexity. I will add cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice when making it again. If you’re not a fan of those autumn spices, you could, of course, leave them out.

Barm Brack keeps nicely for about three days, after which it tends to get a little stale. When this happens, don’t toss it in the bin. Instead, toast it and serve it buttered with a hot cup of tea.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you and your little ghosts and goblins a Happy Halloween.

Barm Brack

Makes One Loaf

Ingredients

2lbs flour

1/4 lb butter

1/4 lb currants

1/4 lb castor sugar

1/2 lb sultanas

1 egg

1oz yeast

2oz peel (candied)

Tepid milk

Directions

1. Heat the flour. (I placed mine in a large mixing bowl and popped it into a warm oven for about 15 minutes.)

2. Break the butter into the flour and add the sugar. (I cut the butter into small pieces and worked it into the flour with my hands until the flour resembled coarse bread crumbs.)

3. Put the yeast into the flour, and, with beaten egg and sufficient tepid milk, make the whole into a loose dough. (I sprinkled the yeast over the sugared flour, whisked the egg with a fork in a small bowl with one cup of room temperature milk. I added more milk straight from the carton into the bowl as needed.)

4. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes; put to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. (The dough was very stiff, but somewhat elastic…vague, I know, but that’s the only way to describe it.)

5. Add the prepared fruit and the finely-chopped peel and knead again for 8 minutes. (I did not add peel to my loaf, but I did add an extra 2 ounces of raisins. Here is where I would suggest adding 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice.)

6. Place in a greased cake-tin, and again put to rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes. (I lightly buttered a loaf tin and I left the Barm Brack to rise for 30 minutes.)

7. Bake in a hot oven for about 1 hour. (I baked mine in an oven preheated to 180°C/350°F. When the top started to burn, I covered it with a piece of greaseproof paper to protect.)

8. When done, the loaf should be glazed by brushing over with a solution made from equal parts of sugar and boiling water. (I omitted this last step.)

Related Articles:

My Quick Irish Barm Brack Recipe is super easy to make.

A recipe for Irish Tea Brack, a similar but easier version of Barm Brac, may be found here.

An article from the Archeological Institute of America on the history of Halloween’s Celtic Roots may be read here.

A history lesson of Ireland’s Halloween customs may be found here.

Haunted houses in Ireland here.

Irish Halloween traditions here.

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