Saint David’s Day (or Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant) is just around the corner & other than rugby season, this is when our true Welsh patriotism is near enough unavoidable as we don our daffodils & leeks, singing songs of the green hills of our homeland. The other 364 days of the year we may moan about the rain, the grey skies & how there’s nothing to do here but on this day, there is no better land. Home of dragons (clearly we have the best flag going?), leeks, award-winning coastlines & Caerphilly cheese, Wales isn’t all that bad.
So how do we celebrate our patron saint? Besides dressing up our children in layer upon layer of traditional Welsh dress or rugby jerseys (the boys had it so much easier), we eat! Believe it or not , there are a plethora of Welsh foods to choose from, everything from leek & potato soup, cawl & rarebit to Glamorgan sausages & Welsh cakes. Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David after all.
One such food that is traditionally eaten on not only Saint Davids Day but also at Christmas is bara brith, a leavened bread enriched with dried fruits & flavoured with tea & mixed spices. A very literal naming, bara brith translates as ‘speckled bread’ with ‘bara’ meaning bread in Welsh & ‘brith’ meaning speckled.
Bara brith comes from very humble origins, it would have been the last loaf placed in the dying village oven at the end of the weekly bake. Any leftover dough was gathered up before dried fruit was added to make it a more palatable, sweet loaf. There are several variations on the traditional bara brith, some more of a bread, others more of a cake, something which is entirely down to your tastes & preferences.
However, be it a cake or bread, family recipes for bara brith have been handed down from generation to generation. So rooted in Welsh history is this fruited loaf that you can even find it still being made & sold in tea rooms not only in Wales but also in Patagonia, after Welsh settlers took the recipe with them back in the 1800’s when they arrived in search of a better life in Argentina.
Personally, I love this little tea loaf, not only because it’s ridiculously cheap & simple to make but also, it’s literally made using tea (& we all know how much I like tea)! My recipe for bara brith makes a rich, moist, fruity loaf with a sweet, delicate hint of spice. For me there’s only one way to enjoy a slice of bara brith, with decent (thick) layer of salted butter & a good cup of tea. It also goes well with cheese as part of a cheese board if you’re looking for a more savoury option.
(makes one 2lb loaf)
- 300ml strong black tea, made using 3 teabags (I use Glengettie tea)
- 300g mixed dried fruit
- 175g soft dark brown sugar
- 250g self-raising flour
- 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 large egg
- Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment
- In a large saucepan place the tea and mixed fruit, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the fruit has plumpened then set aside to cool
- In a large bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients
- Strain the fruit over a jug and top-up the tea mixture back to 300ml if necessary
- Add the tea, dried fruit and egg to the dry ingredients and beat until well combined
- Pour into the tin and bake at 160C for approximately 1 hour, 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean
- Allow the cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes before removing & allowing to cool fully on a cooling rack