Friday, 18 October 2013

Barm Brack

Halloween is just around the corner, so time to think about baking some seasonal treats to celebrate the night when ghosts and ghouls will be out-and-about!

Barm Brack is traditionally associated with Halloween in Ireland. The brack can either be made as a yeasted, sweet bread or as a type of tea-brack using bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent. Whilst I love both versions, I have a particular fondness for the yeasted variety and have included the recipe here.

The word barm comes from an old English word, beorma, meaning yeasted and  fermented liquor. Brack comes from the Irish word brac, meaning speckled… and if you look at the finished loaf…that is exactly what it is… speckled with dried fruit!

Traditionally, a ring (usually a toy charm) is hidden in the brack. On slicing and serving the brack, folklore dictates that whoever gets the ring is certain to be married within the year! If you are going to include a ring in the mixture, make sure that you wrap it in some greaseproof paper before placing in the unbaked dough.

When baked and cooled it is lovely simply sliced and buttered. It goes without saying that it is delicious with a cup of tea! It is also fabulous toasted, though if using a standard toaster to do this, watch it carefully to ensure that it does not burn. Again, I would recommend a generous scraping of a good butter on the hot, toasted brack. Yum!

Finally, there’s no need to throw away any stale ends of brack that you might have lurking around… though my personal experience is that there is never any left to allow go stale because it is usually gobbled up! But if you do, use the slices of brack in place of bread in Bread & Butter Pudding.

Ingredients:

300g mixed dried fruit
80ml hot, strong black tea
500g strong plain flour, plus extra for dusting
75g unsalted butter, diced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground mixed spice
75g sugar
1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast
2 medium eggs, beaten
150–170ml semi-skimmed milk, lukewarm
Oil, for greasing

Method:

1.      Soak the fruit in the tea for at least two hours.
2.      Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Next, stir in the salt, mixed spice, caster sugar and yeast.
3.      Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add half the beaten egg and gradually add 150ml milk, adding a little more if needed. The dough will be slightly sticky but should not be completely unworkable.
4.      Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, adding a touch more flour if it sticks, and knead for 8–10 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth and springs back when you poke a finger in it! You can also use a dough hook on a free standing mixer to take away the hard work of kneading, but I would strongly recommend doing it by hand, because it is by doing this that you really get a “feel” for the dough.
5.      Add the fruit and tea and knead well until combined. As the tea may make the dough a little sticky, you may need to sprinkle in a little extra flour. After kneading in the fruit, the dough should be smooth but still a little sticky. Again, you can knead in the fruit using a dough hook on a free standing mixer.
6.      Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for about 1½ hours until doubled in size.
7.      Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
8.      Knead the dough lightly to knock out the air. Divide the dough in two and shape each into a ball. Place each ball of dough into a well-greased lightly floured 7” round deep cake tin. Cover with greased cling film and set aside for half an hour to rise again.
9.      Brush the tops of the loaves with the remaining beaten egg and bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, until a dark, golden-brown colour. If the tops of the loaves appear to be browning too much whilst baking, cover with a little aluminium foil until they finish baking.
10.  The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the base. Remove the loaves from the tins to cool on a wire rack.