Monday, October 31, 2011


     Another traditional food served at Halloween in Ireland is a tea bread called Barmbrack.  Dried fruit is soaked in tea then baked into a bread batter using either baking soda or yeast as a leavening agent.  The name is derived from Bairin, or top, the yeast was originally skimmed from vats of fermenting beer, and Breac, meaning speckled.  The magical bread is used in fortune telling, often made with charms baked right into the dough.  Wrapped in parchment paper, a ring symbolizes marriage in the coming year, a coin represents wealth, a matchstick foretells an unhappy marriage, a piece of cloth brings poverty and a thimble spinsterhood.  Due to our recent cold snap, the dough was slow to rise and a bit on the wet side.  I should have formed it into a tighter ball before placing in my dutch oven as it spread more like a cake than a loaf but the end result was a lightly spiced, fruity, crispy crusted bread.  It was even better the next day.  In my 12 inch oven I baked it with 10 coals in a ring around the bottom and completely covered the lid with coals to raise the heat in the oven right away.  After 15 minutes, without lifting the lid, I removed the center coals and left two rings around the edge of the lid.  The loaf was ready in thirty minutes.  As a treat for All Hallow's Eve or any time of the year, this lovely bread is easy to make and loaded with history and flavor.  

2 cups strong black tea
2 cups dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel, etc.)
1 cup milk, heated to 110-115 degrees
1 package active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
3-3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/3 tsp nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp salt

     Place the tea and dried fruit in a bowl and let soak for at least one hour, preferably overnight.
     Mix the yeast, warm milk and 2 teaspoons of sugar together in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
     In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and spices.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, beaten egg, butter and salt.  Stir with a wooden spoon or electric mixer to mix the ingredients and bring the dough together.  Add a little more flour if the dough is too wet or a little more milk if it is too dry.
     Remove dough to a floured work surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.
     Drain and pat dry the dried fruit and knead a little at a time into the dough until all the fruit has been incorporated.
     Remove the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
     Lightly oil or spray a 12 inch or larger dutch oven.
     Remove the dough, punch down to deflate and knead lightly for 2-3 minutes.  Form dough into a ball and place in prepared dutch oven.  Cover and let rise again until doubled in size, 30-60 minutes.
     Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Remove to a rack and cool.  Serve with butter and a cup of tea.

Let fruited dough rise for a second time in dutch oven

Bake for 30-40 minutes at 400 degrees

A light, fragrant, fruity teabread

The turkeys came running for a slice

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