The first time I had Barm Brack was in Ireland about 35 years ago when it was served to me with breakfast … warm from the oven, rich and dark, speckled with dried fruits and slathered in sweet, creamy butter. Barm Brack is not a bread you see here in the U.S. unless you go to a bakery which specializes in Irish foods. So I was determined to make my own. The problem is, there appears to be as many different recipes for this classic Irish loaf as their are dried fruits in the mix.
The name Barm Brack comes from the English word, “beorma,” which means yeasty and the Irish word “brac” which means speckled. So we have a yeasty bread with dried fruits. There is a quick bread version which uses baking powder and dried fruits called “Tea Brack”.
Most recipes talk about how Barm Brack is traditionally served at Halloween with small trinkets concealed in the bake … much like the baby in the King Cake at Mardi Gras. On Etsy you can actually buy Barm Brack kits to add the charms to your dough – a coin (for riches), a ring (for marriage), a pea (for no marriage – or maybe divorce), and a stick (for an unhappy marriage). I think I’ll pass on adding these things to my bread.
Of the many versions of the classic recipe, here’s my favorite …
Makes one large round loaf or two smaller ones. Preheat oven to 350°.
4-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. salt
1 pkg. active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/4 milk – warmed
2/3 cup water – warmed
4 tablespoons melted butter
1-3/4 cup dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, currants, cherries, candied peel)
Into a large mixing bowl add flour, salt, allspice and blend together. In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, yeast and warmed milk (not too hot). Make a well in the center of the large bowl and pour in the yeast mixture, melted butter and most of the warm water, including the dried fruits. Using a dough hook (or wooden spoon if you are not using a stand mixer), blend all ingredients together until incorporated. Add more water if needed to make a smooth dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Let the dough rest for a few minute while you wash out the bowl and oil it. Knead the dough vigorously for about 10 minutes until smooth and no longer sticky. Place the dough back into the bowl, oil the top of the dough so it doesn’t dry out and cover with plastic wrap.
Place the bowl in a warm spot, free from drafts, to let the dough rise until its about double in size (one to two hours).
When the dough has risen, it should retain an indentation when you press into it with your finger. Punch the air out of the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured board once again.
Prepare your pan(s). The classic shape is one large round loaf. I’ve chosen to use two one pound loaf pans. Shape the dough, making sure there are no air holes and place it into the pan. Let rise again until doubled in size (about one hour). Brush the tops with melted butter. Make slits in the top of the loaf if you’d like.
Take the butter out of the frig and let it get nice and soft. Then put the kettle on, make your tea and enjoy!
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References: THE COMPLETE IRISH PUB COOKBOOK,