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, no?), leeks, award-winning coastlines, Caerphilly cheese & Welsh cakes, 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 (or at any excuse going) 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, poorer communities would share an oven in order to feed their families.. Any leftover dough was gathered up before dried fruit was added to make it a more palatable, sweet loaf. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when commercial bakehouses appeared in Welsh towns, that bara brith was made with flour instead of yeast, taking it’s form as a cake as opposed to a bread.
However, be it a cake or bread, family recipes for bara brith have been handed down from generation to generation, something I will do with my own family one day. 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. During the 1800’s, when the industrial revolution threatened rural, agricultural communities of Wales, a group of Welshmen decided to seek out new life on pastures new & set sail for Patagonia where a new Welsh community was born. Settlers took traditions from their homeland, including family recipes for bara brith. Personally, I love this little tea loaf, not only because it’s ridiculously cheap & simple to make, contains my favourite spices, 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 (loose leaf or tea bags are fine)
- 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
- Begin by placing the tea and mixed fruit into a large saucepan & bring to the boil
- Reduce to a medium heat & simmer for 10-15 minutes until the fruit has plumpened then set aside to cool slightly
- Strain the fruit over a jug or bowl and top-up the tea mixture back to 300ml if necessary
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, mixed spice & sugar
- Add the tea, dried fruit and egg to the dry ingredients and beat until everything is 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