An authentic recipe for the classic Irish fruit bread.
Vegetarian. Hands-on time: 20 mins. Total time: 1 hour (plus rising and soaking).
Contributed by (August 2005).
Photo © Veg World
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)
- 4 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.
Note on quantities and temperatures:
Quantities are given in American (cups), imperial (oz, fl oz) and metric (g, ml) units. Do not mix the units - use one or other system throughout the recipe.
See also How much does a cup weigh?
oz = ounces, fl oz = fluid ounces, g = grams, ml = milliliters, tsp = teaspoons, tbsp = tablespoons.
Oven temperatures are given in degrees F (Fahrenheit) and C (Celsius).
For fan-assisted ovens, reduce the temperature by 20F or 10C.