It’s St David’s day on Thursday (March 1), the day celebrating the patron saint of Wales. The usual symbols don’t quite seem appropriate right now: leeks and daffodils make me think of spring, but with the Beast from the East chilling the country to its core and covering it in snow, we’re a little out of step.
Happily, bara brith is here to save the day. Bara brith – literally, ‘speckled bread’ – is a sweet fruit bread, soaked with tea. It’s an old Welsh favourite: the story goes that bara brith would be the product of the final pieces of dough gathered up at the end of the week, mixed with scraps of dried fruit – perhaps unintentionally dried, hence the rehydrating with tea – and popped into the dying embers of the village oven producing a sweet bread. It even travelled with the Welsh who sailed to Argentina in 1865, and you’ll find it in Welsh teahouses in the Chubut province. And most importantly, buttered and eaten warm, alongside a hot cup of tea, it’ll protect you from the current cold of the outside world.
Although originally yeasted, it is now more normally made with self-raising flour. Purists may lean towards the yeast, but given that bara brith was born before raising agents existed, I have no issue with moving with the times, not least because it drastically reduces your preparation time. Self-raising flour will produce a slightly lighter loaf than yeasting, leaning more towards the cake than the bread.
My in-laws, as well as being Welsh, are a family of marmalade makers, so when I spotted a recipe that added a couple of tablespoons of Seville orange marmalade, I couldn’t resist – and it’s a great addition. Some recipes will add candied zest along with the dried fruit, but plumping for marmalade takes the edge off the sweetness of the cake without giving you a mouthful of citrus peel.
Supposedly a favourite of Prince Charles – an appropriate dish for the Prince of Wales (or perhaps a savvy piece of diplomacy on his part) – this is best eaten at tea time sliced and spread thickly with butter, and after a couple of days it takes very well toasting – if it lasts that long.
Makes: 1 2lb loaf
Takes: 5 minutes, plus soaking of fruit
Bakes: 90 minutes
300g mixed dried fruit
300ml tea, made with one teabag
250g soft, dark brown sugar
450g self-raising flour
2 tbsp Seville orange marmalade
1. First, soak your fruit. Make up 300ml of tea with boiling water and a single teabag, pour it into a bowl or large jug and add the fruit and sugar. Leave for at least four hours, and ideally over night.
2. Once your fruit has soaked, preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a loaf tin with two strips of paper, that overhang the edges of the tin.
3. In a large mixing bowl, stir the soaked fruit, soaking liquor, self-raising flour, marmalade and egg together. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 90 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, before lifting from the tin and allowing to cool completely.