Barmbrack

Halloween traditions, we’ve all got some, even if it’s just to turn all of the light off & pretend to not be home for the night (I’m looking at you mam)! I love learning all of the different quirks & traditions that each of us have for the various celebrations throughout the year. I think most of us can add watching scary films, trick or treating & generally just scoffing an obscene amount of sweets to our list of traditions, & if you’re me, you can obviously throw baking into the mix too!

When it comes to Halloween baking though, aside from all of the gory, gharish & ghastly creations that are all just as much fun to make as they are to eat, Halloween tradition is a world away from this. I’m talking simple, humble bakes that have meaning & symbolism at their core, not just buttercream.

One such bake of course, is barmbrack, or brack. A simple, richly fruited quick bread often made with tea or whiskey. I like to think of it as the Irish cousin to bara brith, as both names translate to ‘speckled bread’. Other than the addition of whiskey, there’s not much that sets these traditional Celtic bakes apart (obviously it’s an optional addition but it’d all get too confusing for me otherwise!).

Unlike bara birth which only calls for the promise of a pot of tea to be made, barmbrack is often made as part of Halloween celebrations. It is thought that this tradition dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season & beginning of winter. A time when folklore believed that this was a time where our world & another merged temporarily, allowing folk to do thing’s which they wouldn’t normally be able to do, such as fortune telling.

This is why various items used to be baked into the brack as a means of fortune telling, depending on which item you found in your slice of the brack, it would carry a meaning. If you found a pea, you would not marry that year; a stick meant an unhappy marriage or to continually be in disputes; a cloth would bring bad luck or to be poor; a coin meant good fortuned or riches; & a ring, meaning you would wed within the year (I know which one I’d be hoping for!). I don’t bake anything into my own, because I’m already accident prone enough as it is without risk of choking! My only tradition is to cut a rather thick slice, spread with a generous layer of butter & pop the kettle on.

BARMBRACK
(makes one 2lb loaf)

Ingredients:

  • 400g mixed dried fruit
  • 300ml strong black tea
  • 50ml whiskey
  • 1 large egg
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 125g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Optional: a ring to place inside the cake

Method:

  • Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment
  • Either place the fruit, tea & whiskey in large bowl & leave to soak overnight or place in a large saucepan, bring to the boil before reducing the heat & simmering for 10 minutes until the fruit has┬áplumped up then set aside to cool
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder & mixed spice before stirring through the sugar
  • Add the egg along with all of the fruit & liquid to the dry ingredients & beat until well combined
  • Pour into the tin & press the ring somewhere into the cake mixture if using
  • Bake at 170C for 1 hour, 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

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