Halloween is a big thing in Ireland. Before all the commercialised plastic jack o laterns, fake cobwebs and Americanised trick or treating, Holloween was an ancient Celtic festival. According to legend Halloween was the night your ancestors souls returned to earth. Mischief and mishaps could occur, and there is also sorts of folklore that changes depending on where you go in the country.
Barm back (bairin breac in Irish, and apologies to all Irish speakers if I’ve misspelled this) was traditionally eaten at this time. This roughly translates as speckled loaf. The loaf is speckled with raisins and sultanas plump from being soaked in tea. There are stories that people would include different items and if you got it in your slice of the bread that would be your fortune for the year. These included things like if you got a ring you would get married, a dried pea meant you would stay single, and piece of cloth foretold poverty. There are various recipes, some use yeast, this one doesn’t and is much more straightforward. I used ordinary tea in this recipe, but you can also use teas like Earl Grey, or fruit teas. Some people include treacle, but I don’t like it so I left it out. The grated orange zest isn’t traditional but it’s what I like.
275 Grams Raisins
100 Grams Sultana
50 Grams Mixed peel (some supermarkets sell mixed fruit, so you can just total up to 425 Grams and use this instead)
300ml Black tea
200 Grams Brown sugar
225 Grams Self raising flour
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
- The night before you make the barm brack, make 300ml of black tea. I just added a tea bag to hot water for a couple of minutes, don’t let it stew for too long or it will get bitter. You don’t need to leave this overnight, but try to leave it at least 3-4 hours
- In a bowl, add the sugar, flour, spices and orange zest and combine. Add an egg and then add the tea and soaked fruit and mix well.
- Transfer to a round 8 inch baking tin and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 90 mins. Because there is quite a lot sugar in this loaf, it goes quite dark. This is how it’s meant to be, but about half way through I cover the top with some tin foil to stop it taking on too much colour before it’s fully cooked.