I’m all for easy recipes. Ones where I don’t have to think too much. Ones where I can just throw it all in and get on with something else. This Barm Brack (tea loaf) fits the bill nicely.
And, if you are in a hurry, please scroll straight to the recipe. I won’t mind. I know how you feel.
But for those of you who want to know what Barm Brack is, I’ll tell you what I know so far. It may not be much, but it may be enough. I do know that it is good.
As is often the case with older recipes, there is some discrepancy over the origin of the name. But the words yeast and bread and speckled appear regularly. This is fitting, as Barm Brack is a traditional Irish tea bread, speckled with dried fruit. Although, to be honest, there is no yeast in this one.
The loaf was traditionally served at Hallowe’en and, in keeping with a night when superstition was elevated, small charms were hidden in the mixture to foretell the fortunes of those gathered around the table — a wedding ring meant impending marriage, a rag warned of a poor life ahead, a thimble was a sad portent of spinsterhood. Choose carefully, my friend, and please do not choke.
You have nothing to worry about with this recipe. No surprises, I promise.
The sultanas and dates can be substituted with dried fruit of your choice. You may like to add spices and mixed peel.
I have used Earl Grey tea but it works well with regular tea. The tea plumps up the sultanas and dates giving them their soft texture.
This recipe was sent to me from my father (a retired chef). Dad scribbled a note on the recipe (Bill is my Irish partner):
Bill will think he is back in Ireland when he tastes it!!
350ml (12 fluid oz) hot, strong tea (use 3 teabags)
200g (7oz) soft brown sugar
175g (6oz) sultanas
175g (6oz) dates, chopped
285g (10oz) self-raising flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
Put the tea, sugar and dried fruit in a bowl, stir to combine and leave overnight to soak.
Mix the soaked fruit into the sieved flour, add the beaten egg and mix to combine. Turn into the loaf tin and cover loosely with tin foil.
Bake in a moderate oven (180°C/350°F) for 1 hour 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool, with foil intact, in the oven.
When cold, cut in thick slices, butter generously and serve with a cup of tea. But it also tastes good without the butter.
Barm Brack keeps well, but if it ever lasts long enough to become stale, it is very good toasted and buttered.
The loaf also freezes well – although I can’t say for certain, as it has never made it to the freezer in our house.