Barmbrack (Tea Bread with Dried Fruit)

I’ve mentioned before that Samhain (or Halloween) is very important to me.  It is the night when the veil between us and the spirit world is thinnest, allowing us to better communicate with our departed loved ones.  While looking forward to new beginnings, we enter the dark half of the year and mark the end of the harvest.  Samhain dinner last year was cancelled when a foot of snow fell in Connecticut just days before the holiday, causing power outages and making travel difficult.  It was considered unsafe for children in most towns to trick-or-treat because of downed trees and power lines.  This year while Hurricane Sandy was threatening to cause the same scene, I was thinking that Samhain dinner might be Chinese food by candle light again.

I’m happy to report that wasn’t the case, and that Lane and I enjoyed a nice dinner at home before watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and enjoying this barmbrack for dessert.  Barmbrack is a traditional Irish bread studded with raisins that would usually have charms like a ring and a coin baked into it.  Guests who received a charm were said to be receiving a fortune.  For example, receiving a slice with a coin in it meant the recipient would have wealth in the coming year.  I didn’t bake charms into mine, but it was delicious all the same.  I’ve seen versions of this that call for yeast and the end result is sweeter than sandwich bread but not as rich as a cake.  For the version here, self-rising flour is used and the end result is like a loaf cake.  This is delicious sliced and slathered with butter.  It also toasts well, and keeps well in an air tight container.  I like Earl Grey tea for this because it gives the barmbrack a citrusy flavor, but any tea will work.  If you don’t want to use whiskey, you can substitute tea for the whiskey.  I used a mixture of dried apples, dried apricots, cranberries, raisins, and dried peaches, but you can feel free to use whatever mixture of fruit you like, as long as it adds up to two and a half cups total.

Barmbrack

Ingredients:

  • 1 C. raisins
  • 1 1/2 C. dried fruit (such as apples, apricots, peaches, plums, cranberries, cherries), coarsely chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 C. hot, strong brewed Earl Grey or black tea
  • 1/4 C. whiskey or Cointreau
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 3/4 C. self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 C. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice

Directions:

Put the raisins, dried fruit and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl (one that’s big enough to mix all of the ingredients later on).

Pour the tea and whiskey over the dried fruit mixture and allow the fruit to soak for at least one hour, or as long as overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Add the beaten egg, flour, sugar, cinnamon and allspice to the fruit and tea mixture.

Stir well until everything is just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Serve warm (or lightly toasted) with butter.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Source: Modified from Edible Ireland, originally from Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen

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