Barmbrack, Master that Speckled Loaf from Rachel's Irish Family Food in Time for St Patrick's Day

After serving Pan Fried Mackerel recipe from Rachel's Irish Family Food (Harper Collins, February 19), here's something you might want to master in time for St Patrick's Day 2013.

Barmbrack, (Báirín breac) 


Serves 8
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

Ready in 1¾ hours

12⁄3 cups (225g) white bread (strong white) flour, plus extra for dusting 
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice (mixed spice)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (25g) butter, plus extra for spreading
1 (¼-ounce/7g) packet fast-rising baking yeast
¼ cup (50g) superfine (caster) or granulated sugar
2⁄3 cup (150ml) milk
1 egg, beaten
1½ cups (200g) mixed dried fruit, either ready-mixed or your own mixture of golden raisins (sultanas), raisins, and dried currants
1 ounce (25g) chopped mixed peel
Barmbrack is a traditional Irish sweetened bread not dissimilar to the Welsh bara brith. In Gaelic it’s known as báirín breac, or “speckled loaf” due to the way the dough is dotted with raisins. When barmbrack was baked for Halloween, the tradition was to add to the cake mixture a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a coin, and a ring. Each item had a special significance for the person who discovered it in their slice of cake. The person who received the pea wouldn’t marry that year; the stick meant an unhappy marriage; the cloth indicated poverty and the coin riches; while the person who found the ring would wed within the year. Nowadays it’s usually just a ring that’s added to the batter. The cake is delicious toasted and buttered and, if not immediately consumed, will keep for about 10 days.

This is a relatively quick recipe for barmbrack because it uses fast-action yeast, requiring the dough to rise only once.

Butter the sides and the bottom of a 9 by 5-inch (23 by 13cm) loaf pan.

Sift the flour, spice, and salt into a large bowl and add the butter, yeast, and sugar. Beat together by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.

Warm the milk just until lukewarm, then add to the flour mixture along with the egg. Mix until the dough comes together. Then knead using a dough hook in an electric mixer, or tip the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead by hand (don’t worry this is supposed to be a wet dough). Knead for 8 minutes by hand or for 5 minutes in the mixer. Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and knead for another 2 minutes to mix them in.

Put the dough into the prepared loaf pan, cover with a light kitchen towel or napkin and leave to rise in a warm place (by a radiator, for instance, or a sunny window) for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas mark 4).

Remove the covering and bake for 45 minutes, or until deep golden brown on top. When you think the loaf is ready, gently loosen the sides with a spatula and tip it out of the pan. If it’s fully cooked, it should sound slightly hollow when you tap it on the bottom and feel springy when you lightly squeeze the sides. Place it on a wire rack to cool.

Slice up the loaf and serve either fresh or toasted, and buttered

(* Recipe from Rachel's Irish Family Food by Rachel Allen- Harper Collins, February 19, 2013- reproduced with permission)

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