It’s St Patrick’s Day this Sunday, so Vintage Chef is celebrating it with an Irish bake: barmbrack, a sweet tea bread studded with mixed dried fruits (which give rise to the name which translates as ‘speckled bread’).
Although often associated with hallowe’en, this is too lovely a loaf to restrict to once a year. The hallowe’en tradition bakes objects into the bread, in the same way that Christmas puddings often hold a silver sixpence which bestows good luck on the receiver, or a galette des rois contains a bean or a tiny toy jesus, making that person king for the day. But the barmbrack is, to put it mildly, riskier business. Inside the barmbrack there may be a pea, a stick, some cloth, a silver sixpence and a ring. These convey different fortunes to the person who found them, the pea means that the person who found it wouldn’t get married that year, the stick means an unhappy marriage, the cloth is bad luck and poverty, the coin, good fortune, and the ring, marriage before the year is out. The odds, it seems, are against you.
Barmbrack takes different forms: buns, flattened rounds, loaves, and can be yeasted or baked as more like a cake with baking powder or self-raising flour. I’ve plumped for the popular loaf cake, and self-raising flour, as these two compliment each other, and make for an easy, reliable bake, and are significantly quicker than using yeast. Here, bitter black tea isn’t the only drink being used: the fruit is soaked with Irish whiskey before mixing, making the dried sultanas, raisins and zest soft and moist and just the right amount of boozy. Like all the best fruit breads, this is lovely on its own, even better spread thickly with cold butter, and toasts up beautifully.
If barmbrack has whetted your Irish baking appetite, then you might also fancy giving our Guinness chocolate cake a go!
Makes: 1 2lb loaf
Takes: 5 minutes, plus soaking
Bakes: 1 hour
1 egg, lightly whisked
50g light brown sugar
250g mixed, dried fruit
½ tablespoon ground spice
1 teaspoon fine salt
25g butter, melted
250g self raising flour
2 tablespoons demerara sugar.
1. First, put the dried fruit into a small bowl, and pour the whiskey over the top, and leave to soak for a couple of hours.
2. Line a 2 lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 180°C. Make up the 150ml of tea with boiling water and one teabag, and leave to steep.
3. Mix together the sugar, spice, salt and flour. Stir through the soaked fruit, the tea, the melted butter and the egg, until completely combined. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, sprinkle with demerara sugar, and bake for an hour, until puffed and risen with a firm crust.
4. Allow to cool for ten minutes in its tin, before running a knife along the sides, and turning the loaf out before leaving it to cool entirely.