Barmbrack is an Irish yeasted tea bread, traditionally eaten at Halloween. Originally barmbracks were made with a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin and a ring baked inside. These objects were all symbolic in a fortune telling style way. When the cake was sliced and served, each the person ended up with one of these things. It was believed that the person who got the pea would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Those who like to play it safe can leave out the pea, stick and cloth…
Coming from an Irish household, it’s something I eat quite regularly but this was my first time making a loaf. And it won’t be my last! I love working with yeasted dough, it’s so therapeutic and satisfying (especially the eating part at the end.)
The dough I’ve used for the barmbrack is actually the same as the dough I used for the Sweet Apple Buns!
- 220g (1 1/2 cups) dried mixed fruit & peel
- 2 cups strong black tea
- (optional) 50ml (1/4 cup) whiskey
- 60ml (1/4 cup) milk (warmed to 110c)
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 300g (2 cups) plain flour
- 50g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1 large free-range egg, beaten
- 75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp salt
- At least one hour before, or preferably overnight, soak the dried fruit in the tea and whisky (if using.)
- In a small bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast and 2 tsp sugar. Stir and leave to the side for at least 5 minutes to activate the yeast.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift in the flour then stir in the sugar and spices. Add the butter, using your fingers to mix it into the flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in the beaten egg and yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a dough (add more milk if too dry or more flour if too wet.)
- Transfer the dough onto a floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Drain the fruit and knead it into the dough, adding a small bit at a time, until all the fruit has been incorporated.
- Roughly shape the dough in to a ball and add to a large lightly buttered bowl, cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to sit somewhere warm (The airing cupboard is perfect for this!) for 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
- Once it's doubled in size, transfer back to a floured surface and punch the dough to deflate it. Knead it for another couple of minutes then place in a lightly buttered 8inch cake tin. Cover with cling film or a tea towel again and leave in a warm place for a further 45 minutes.
- 10 minutes beforehand, preheat the oven to 180c.
- Bake the barmbrack for 30-40 minutes, making sure it doesn't burn on top (I had to put a tin foil "hat" on mine towards the end)
- Leave to cool before serving and enjoy with some butter and tea!