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Barmbrack

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We went to Inverness Tesco recently and I weakened and bought a Rankin Barmbrack and it was delicious, reminding me a lot of lardy cake (only without the sugar crust).

Essentially barmbrack is an Irish sweet fruit bread or fruit cake and is traditionally served at Halloween, being best enjoyed with a generous helping of butter.

Freshly baked Barmbrack
My first barmbrack fresh out of the oven

There seem to be a lot of regional recipes around the UK on the same theme, the aforementioned lardy cake (which, unsurprisingly really, you originally found in places where there were lots of pigs, like Wiltshire), Selkirk bannock in Scotland, or bara brith in Wales.

We don't go to Inverness that often and Sainsburys in Nairn don't do anything similar so I started to think about making my own. How hard could it be?

There's thousands of recipes out there. It seems that the traditional way to do it is to make it as a sweet bread, so relying on yeast as the raising agent, others make it as a cake, so using self-raising flour. Either way it's filled with dried fruit, usually soaked in tea, and sometimes in whiskey. I can remember my mother making cakes like this when I was a kid.

In the end I based my version mainly on this one from the Belfast Telegraph but with some changes, not least because I used my trusty bread maker to do most of the hard work.

So here it is, mainly for my benefit in future:

Ingredients

  • 400g mixed fruit
  • some tea
  • some whiskey

  • 450g plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • some milk
  • 3 tsp dried yeast1

  • More flour, probably another 50g or so, for the final kneeding

Recipe

Make half a bowl of tea (I used four tea bags and just poured boiling water over them). Add the mixed fruit and stir. Once it's cooled down a bit add the whiskey (I've no idea how much I added but two good splashes so probably a triple measure at least). Cover and leave overnight.

Drain the liquor off the fruit and save it.

Beat the egg in a measuring jug then fill to about 5 fl oz with milk2 then top up to 10 fl oz with the liquor from the fruit.

Into the bread machine put: the fluid you've just mixed up, flour, butter (diced), mixed spice, salt, sugar, and yeast. Now run the machine on a short dough making cycle - I went for a 45 minute programme. I checked it at ten minute intervals initially as it was a bit dry and needed more liquor.

When it's done then put it on a well floured surface and mix in the fruit by kneading. As the fruit is very wet you will add quite a lot more flour through the process but eventually you should end up with a ball of dough heavily studded with fruit.

Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover with greased cling film and leave somewhere warm to rise to about double its size (you can put our oven on at about 30°C so I used that).

Freshly risen Barmbrack
Freshly risen

Roll/pour it out onto a greased baking tray, shape it up, and put it in the oven at 200°C for about 40 minutes.

Ready to go in the oven
Ready to go in the oven

You can see the finished product at the top of this article but here's a photo of it after the first cut and finally, a freshly buttered slice.

Just cut open
Just cut open

Freshly buttered slice
Freshly buttered slice

My conclusion, having had one slice is that it's pretty good but I suspect that, like fruit cake, it will improve with ageing a bit as it's still very fresh. I was certainly right to add more mixed spice: most of the recipes only use half a teaspoon. I'm not even sure one was quite enough.

  1. I use Fermipan Red for all my breadmaking and I strongly recommend it.
  2. Yes, yes, I know, I've switched to imperial, so sue me.

Tags: food Written 15/07/17

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