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.
One of my favourite places to visit in Northern Ireland is Newcastle Co. Down. There are lots of things to love, breathtaking scenery, amusement arcades, seaweed baths, a lovely promenade, and the world class Tollymore forest Park. I visited recently and tried to find a little bakery that used to sell the most amazing date and walnut wheaten bread. Sadly the shop is gone but the visit inspired me to come up with a version of it which isn’t half bad.
This bread is great just sliced and slavered in butter/jam. It’s also savoury enough to taste great when topped with cheese, or along side soup. You can also devide the bread mix into eight to make little wheaten rolls.
275 Grams Plain flour
200 Grams Wholemeal flour
175 Grams Dates (chopped)
75 Grams Walnuts (chopped)
50 Grams Butter (melted)
1 Tsp Baking soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
250ml Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so you can improvise as I did. I used normal milk and added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and left it to sit for 10 minutes)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
Add the flours, walnuts, dates, salt and baking soda to a bowl and combine
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add the egg, and melted butter. Add the milk a little at a time until you have quiet a moist dough.I like to use my hands to mix the ingredients, but you can also use a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape into a circle, around 14-16cm in diameter
Put the loaf onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a cross across the loaf, about a third of the depth of the loaf
Bake for 45 minutes, check the loaf is ready by tapping the bottom to makes it sounds hollow
Lila and her family run my favourite Belfast bakery, Piece of Cake, now with a shop in the Europa Bus Centre in Belfast. They are also much loved regulars at St George’s Market in Belfast.
Due to unrest in their native Croatia in the 1980’s, Lila and the family relocated to Belfast. Once here they worked their socks off, getting up at the crack of dawn everyday to build a business and a home.
While she might be 80 years young, Lila’s work ethic and energy would put most people half her age to shame. On top of this, she is also a sweetheart.
This bakery creates amazing artisan breads, pastries and cakes. I have a secret fantasy about being locked in their shop overnight. Just two among my many favourites are their potato rostis, and the coconut meringue cheese cake, OMG they’re fabulous.
Some moronic pr*cks like to spout off about how immigrants don’t contribute to society. I would say they obviously haven’t met women like Lila or her family or see how hard they still work, and the local people they employ.