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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Irish Hallowe'en Barmbrack

One of the loveliest traditions surrounding 'All Hallows Eve' in Ireland is the Halloween cake, the barmbrack. It is a sweet fruit loaf that acts as a sort of Celtic fortune cookie. Trinkets are hidden in the bread, well wrapped up, and each member of the family gets a slice. Your future is decided by which symbolic item you get.

The barmbracks of my childhood were either homemade or came from Hickey’s Bakery set snugly in the shadow of the West Gate. These are really lovely, but as with all the commercial bracks now they only have the toy ring. If you are making a homemade version you can add as many of the items as you like. In our house this year I put in two rings after the last door slamming episode when the younger child got the ring and her sister did not. Although if I was to be realistic I could cram the whole things full of rags in light of the upcoming budget, then that should be fairly accurate.

The trinkets include a ring predicting marriage within the year, a pea for a person who would not marry that year. A coin - wealth, piece of rag - poverty, a matchstick stood for an unhappy marriage or conflict. The thimble - spinster and a button for a batchelor.

The bracks can be a yeast bread but I prefer this Darina Allen recipe. Use a nice strong tea and soak the fruit for as long as is recommended as it makes the finished cake nice and light with moist fruit. There are some recipes that call for a bit of whisky or other spirits in the mix, but to my mind that makes it a bit too similar to a Christmas cake. There are enough spirits wandered the earth around that time without adding to their numbers.

From 'Forgotten Skills of Cooking' by Darina Allen

100 g (3/4 cup) raisins
100 g (3/4 cup) sultanas
100 g (3/4 cup) currants
50 g (1/4 cup) glacé cherries, quartered
50 g (1/4 cup) candied peel or the zest of 1 lemon
300 ml (1 cup) hot, black tea
1 egg, lightly beaten
225 g (1 3/4 cups) self-raising flour
200 g (1 1/4 cup) light brown sugar
1 level teaspoon mixed spice

Put the raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries and candied peel in a large bowl. Pour over the tea and allow the fruit to soak for at least an hour or even better, overnight.

When the fruit is ready, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a 450 g (1 lb) loaf tin with parchment paper or a loaf tin liner.

Add in the beaten egg, flour, sugar and mixed spice to the fruit and tea. Stir well until everything is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing. This keeps for a week or two in an airtight tin.
Serve sliced with plenty of butter.


  1. Amee, am wondering where you got rings for the brack? I usually make a few tea-bracks for Halloween but I see trouble ahead this year as my stock of little metal adjustable rings is all gone, so the little ghosts and bats are going to be very cross with me.

    1. The local "pound shop" has a large container of them for a few cents each - I live on the less posh side of Galway so maybe you have no such kind of shop on your side. I imagine the joke shop or 'It's magic' in the Eyre Square centre has them still.

  2. I loved this recipe, and pictures are so lovely!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Yes, I agree with Kate the pictures are stunning. I can't cook and I don't cook (well as little as possible) but this Brack looks so delicious I might try it.

  4. What a wonderful tradition - I had no idea that this happened on Halloween! Love the title of the book it came from too :-)

  5. This is great and just the sort of cake I love. Always enjoy a god fruit loaf and it is good to find out about your traditions behind it. Something I had no idea about . I don't think this loaf cake would benefit from spirits either :)

  6. This looks gorgeous - and I think you are right, a splash of spirits would make this too christmassy. Love the photos and I'd risk a chipped tooth to find that gorgeous ring in my slice of barmbrack, Amee

  7. Looks great. I got my ring for the brack in the euro shop. 2 for 1€ and made from metal so no melting. They were shaped in skeleton forms!

  8. Have been looking for the perfect brack recipe all week and thanks to you I've found it:)
    Going to soak my fruit tonight and make it tomorrow.

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