Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Irish Halloween Traditions: Barmbrack

Make some barmbrack to go with your tea, whiskey, beer, or mixture of all three this fine Halloween holiday.

Here's some info directly stolen from the wikipedia entry:

Barnbrack is the center of an Irish Halloween custom. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. In the barnbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, "to beat one's wife with", would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Other articles added to the brack include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary to symbolise going into the priesthood or to the Nuns, although this tradition is not widely continued in the present day.

And here's a recipe...

An authentic recipe for the classic Irish fruit bread.
Recipe for Barmbrack, contributed by Mike Lewis

Barmbrack is a traditional Irish spicy fruit bread, and one of my favorite accompaniments to afternoon tea. It's delicious sliced, toasted and buttered - or you can eat it on its own. Similar to the Welsh bara brith, it's easily available in bakeries and supermarkets in Ireland and Britain. It's also quite easy to make at home, although you do need to plan ahead to allow time for the fruit to soak and the dough to rise.

Don't be tempted by inferior barmbrack recipes that use self-raising flour or baking soda. Barmbrack is essentially a yeasted bread (barm is another name for fermented yeast). Recipes that call for chemical raising agents will be quicker, but not nearly as good as this one, which is the genuine article.

Barmbrack is usually baked in a round cake tin. I use a 20 cm (8 in) tin with a loose base, but the recipe works just as well with a rectangular loaf tin. The quantities given here will make one large loaf.

* 2 tea bags, or 3 tsp. loose tea (a strong black blend works best)
* 3½ cups (12 oz, 350 g) mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, currants, candied peel)
* 1 cup (8 fl oz, 240 ml) milk
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 2 tsp. dried active yeast (not instant yeast)
* 3 cups (1 lb, 450 g) strong bread flour (I usually use white flour but you can also use a mixture of white and wheat meal)
* 1 tsp. salt
* ¼ cup (1 oz, 25 g) brown sugar
* 1/3 cup (3 oz, 75 g) butter or margarine
* 1 beaten egg
* 1 tsp. mixed spice

Oven: Pre-heat to 350F (180C).

Start by making two cups (16 fl oz, 480 ml) of strong black tea. Remove the tea bags, or strain the tea to remove the leaves. Soak the dried fruit in the tea. Ideally, the fruit should soak for several hours or even overnight, but if this is not possible, don't worry - just leave it soaking for as long as you can.

Warm the milk until it is hand-hot (you can do this in the microwave). Stir in the teaspoon of sugar and the yeast, and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until it becomes frothy.

Mix the flour, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl. Rub in the butter or margarine. Add the frothy yeast, the beaten egg and the spice. Drain any remaining liquid from the fruit, then add the fruit to the mixture. Mix well to make a smooth dough (add extra flour if the mixture is too wet).

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead it thoroughly. Place it in an oiled tin, cover with a cloth, and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 - 60 minutes; the dough should have doubled in size.

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the tin, turn it upside down and put it back in the tin or directly on the oven shelf. Bake for another 20 minutes or so. The loaf will be ready when it sounds hollow when you tap on each of the sides. Cool the loaf on a wire rack before serving.

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