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 for sale here in the U.S. unless you go to a bakery which specializes in Irish foods. Determined to make my own, I started the search for the definitive recipe. The problem is, there appears to be as many different recipes for this classic Irish loaf as their are dried fruits in the mix. As with every country, many ‘homey’ recipes are passed down from generation to generation, most often never having been written down. As a result, they vary significantly.
Many websites (including Wikipedia) refer to Barm Brack as a ‘quick bread’ (requiring no yeast at all). The name Barm Brack actually comes from the English word, “beorma,” which means yeasty. As a result, this is a “yeast” bread, not to be confused with the quick bread version, Tea Brack, which uses baking powder as its leavening agent. The Gaelic word for speckled is “brac” so whether you use yeast or baking powder, what we have is a delicious bread with dried fruits.
Although Barm Brack is enjoyed all year round, it is traditionally served at Halloween. Small trinkets are concealed in the bread … 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).
If you, like me, use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make bread, then this is not a difficult bread to make at all. And on a cold, rainy day, what could be more perfect than the smell of bread baking in the oven? Of the many versions of the classic recipe, this one’s my favorite. If you make it, let me know how it comes out. Enjoy!
Makes one super large round loaf or two 1 pound loaves. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.
4-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. allspice
1-1/2 tsps. salt
1 pkg. active dry yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1-1/4 milk – warmed
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 beaten egg
1-3/4 cup dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, currants, cherries, candied peel) soaked in …
2/3 cup water
1 beaten egg white
A couple hours before you begin to make the bread, put the dried fruits into a bowl – bring the water to a boil and pour over the dried fruits. Soak the fruits until softened – anywhere from an hour to overnight.
When softened, drain the fruits and reserve the water – to add to the bread batter.
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. Add the beaten egg, melted butter and most of the water from the fruits.
Using a dough hook (or wooden spoon if you are not using a stand mixer), blend all ingredients together until incorporated. Mix well. Add more water if needed to make a smooth dough. I like to beat the dough briskly so that my kneading time is reduced. Add the dried fruits at the last moment – incorporating thoroughly.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and let it rest for a few minute while you wash out the bowl and oil it. Then knead the dough vigorously for at least 10 minutes to build up the gluten. It should be smooth and not 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. Put 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 fully, 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.
Grease or oil your pan(s). The classic shape is one large round loaf, but you can create any size or shape you’d like. In the past I’ve chosen to make two one pound loaf pans, today its going to be one super large loaf.
When shaping the dough, making sure there are no air holes in it. Place the dough into the pan(s). Let it rise again until doubled in size (30 minutes or so). Brush the tops with the beaten egg white. You can cut slits into the top of the loaf if you’d like … or not.
Bake at 375° … 1-1/4 hours for one loaf … 60 minutes for two. The loaf should sound hollow when rapped on the bottom with a spoon. Turn the bread out onto a wire rack and let cool.
Look at the size of this thing!! It could be a weapon, it’s so large. But it is beautiful and will be delicious!! So now its time to take the butter out of the frig to soften … put the kettle on and enjoy!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
References: THE COMPLETE IRISH PUB COOKBOOK