Irish Barm Brack
This is a most common bread in this part of the world. It is sold in supermarkets and bakers up and down the country. It was traditionally made at hallowe’en. The word barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasty fermented liquor. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled – which it is, with dried fruit. Hallowe’en has always been associated with fortune telling and divination, so various objects were wrapped up and hidden in the cake mixture — a wedding ring, a coin, a pea or a thimble (signifying spinsterhood). It is no longer just a Hallowe’en treat. A wonderful bread with egg enriched dough. Lovely fresh with butter or just perfect toasted. My husband has long been a fan so I have spent some time perfecting this bread and at last I’ve arrived. If you try it I don’t think you will be disappointed.
200 gms/6oz sultanas (or more if you like)
1/2 teasp mixed spice
strong tea – enough to cover the fruit
juice of a lemon.
250 gms/9oz plain flour
250gms /9oz white bread flour
200 mls/7 fluid oz milk
50 gms/2oz melted butter
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 tablespoon dried active yeast.
pinch of salt
12.5gms/1/2 oz butter softened
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice.
Place the fruit tea lemon juice and mixed spice in a saucepan.
Let it simmer until the liquid disappears. About ten to twenty minutes
The fruit will be nice and plump.
Leave to one side.
It doesn’t have to be cold but it doesn’t matter if it is.
Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer if you have a dough hook
Warm the milk and add a little of the honey.
Sprinkle in the yeast and stir.
Leave for five or ten minutes until the yeast is quite frothy.
While this is happening melt the butter and beat the eggs.
Make a well in the flour and pour the yeast mixture the butter eggs and the rest of the honey in.
Mix until you have a nice soft dough (not sticky though). Not too soft as when the fruit is added it will add a little more liquid.
If you feel your dough is too dry add a little water a teaspoon at a time but go carefully. You want to be able to handle the dough easily not have a sticky pile in the bowl.
Knead with a dough hook for about five minutes or by hand for 10 minutes.
Towards the end of kneading mix in the fruit by hand
You can add this at the beginning into the flour but the fruit ends up all squished and squashed and not a bit nice.
When you have all the fruit combined and not too much has escaped, form the dough into a ball.
Turn this in an oiled bowl so that the dough has a light film of oil.
Cover with a tea towel or cling film and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in volume (about an hour).
When the dough has risen, pull it out of the bowl onto a lightly oiled work top with lightly oiled hands. This stops the dough sticking to you and everything else.
Form it into an oblong and divide into two equal pieces.
Form these into two balls and place on a greased and floured baking sheet.
Flatten the balls slightly.
Cover with lightly oiled cling fim and leave to rise again for about half an hour.
Pre-Heat your oven to 200.C/180.C Fan/400.F/Gas 6
When the bracks have risen snip the tops with scissors or slash with a sharp knife a couple of times then place them in the oven and bake for about thirty minutes until golden brown and the bottoms tap hollow.
While they are baking, mix the spice with the softened butter,
As soon as you remove the bracks from the oven smother them with this spicy butter. (I find those silicone pastry brushes great for this job)
Leave on a cooling rack
I expect this would work with instant yeast in which case just warm the milk and add everything to the flour. I have found with enriched doughs that the dried active yeast gives a better rise but of course you must do what is easiest for you.
Use any dried fruit you like and /or mixed peel. You can add more or less fruit. Whatever your taste is really.
The kitchen smells heavenly while making this.