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Barmbrack

Barmbrack (sometimes called Bairin Brack), a rich Irish fruit bread, is the food most associated with ancient Halloween customs. The “charms” baked into each loaf would fortell the future of the recipiant. Placed in the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth and a ring. Whovever received in their slice the pea, would be unmarried; the stick, would be a fighter (or wife beater!); the cloth or rag, would be poor; and the ring, would be wed within the year.

Barmbrack is similar in style, though denser, to the Italian Pannettone.

The word barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – which, of course, it is, with dried fruit and candied peel.

Barmbrack is usually baked in a round (20 cm or 8″) cake tin with a loose base, but this recipe works just as well with a rectangular loaf tin. The quantities given here will make one large loaf.

  • 2 tea bags, or 3 tsp. loose tea (a strong black blend works best)
  • 3½ cups (12 oz, 350 g) mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, currants, candied peel)
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz, 240 ml) milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. dried active yeast (not instant yeast)
  • 3 cups (1 lb, 450 g) strong bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup (1 oz, 25 g) brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (3 oz, 75 g) butter or margarine
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp. mixed spice

Oven: Pre-heat to 350F (180C).

Start by making two cups (16 fl oz, 480 ml) of strong black tea. Remove the tea bags, or strain the tea to remove the leaves. Soak the dried fruit in the tea. Ideally, the fruit should soak for several hours or even overnight, but if this is not possible, don’t worry – just leave it soaking for as long as you can.

Warm the milk until it is hand-hot (you can do this in the microwave). Stir in the teaspoon of sugar and the yeast, and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until it becomes frothy.

Mix the flour, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter or margarine. Add the frothy yeast, the beaten egg and the spice. Drain any remaining liquid from the fruit, then add the fruit to the mixture. Mix well to make a smooth dough (add extra flour if the mixture is too wet).

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it thoroughly. Place it in an oiled tin, cover with a cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 – 60 minutes; the dough should have doubled in size.

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the tin, turn it upside down and put it back in the tin or directly on the oven shelf. Bake for another 20 minutes or so. The loaf will be ready when it sounds hollow when you tap on each of the sides. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before serving.

Recipe written by Mike Lewis, courtesy of veg-world.com

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