Irish Tea Barmbrack

by Kristin on October 31, 2011

I have a friend who used to work in the famous Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street in Dublin years ago. She told me once about about the letters they got around this time of year, usually from tourists who had bought a loaf of barmbrack in the store to take back home with them. The people writing the letters were concerned that they’d found a ring in their bread, with one person saying they’d had it appraised and another one joking that they were relieved they hadn’t also found the finger that came with the ring. Most people sent the ring back.

They obviously didn’t know just what they’d bought. Barmbrack (or báirín breac in Irish, from báirín, a loaf, and breac, speckled, due to the raisins in it) is a traditional Halloween treat in Ireland, falling somewhere between bread and cake. What makes it special is the ring and coin that are usually baked into the bread, turning it into a bit of a fortune-telling game: whoever gets the coin will be rich and whoever gets the ring will be married within the year. Who knows what chances for love those well-meaning tourists sent back?

Irish Tea Barmbrack
adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen

Makes 1 loaf

Darina Allen says that even though this is a very rich bread, it’s traditionally served sliced and buttered in Ireland. If you can’t get sultanas and/or raisins, just use all raisins instead, or you could substitute dried cranberries too. Darina’s recipe calls for glacé cherries, but you could use chopped dates instead or leave them out altogether. I’ve been cheeky and have swapped out some of the tea for whiskey in this recipe, but if you don’t want to use alcohol in your barmbrack, just use 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) tea. For a twist, use Earl Grey or even chai tea instead of regular black tea. If you want to add in some charms, like a ring or coins, just be sure to wrap them well in parchment paper first before adding them to the batter!

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, halved or quartered, or stoned, chopped dates
50 g (1/4 cup) candied peel or the zest of 1 lemon
250 ml (1 cup) hot, strong black tea
50 ml (1/4 cup) whiskey or Cointreau
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, one that’s big enough to accommodate all the ingredients later on. Pour over the tea and whiskey or Cointreau and allow the fruit to soak for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, 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 mixture. 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 very well in an airtight tin.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Móna Wise October 31, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I love brack. We make a brioche brack and it is very good – but only in the once-a-year kind of way. Hope you are all ready for the festivities. Mulling some wine right now!

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Kristin November 3, 2011 at 10:03 am

Ooh, a brioche version sounds lovely. I took the easy way out with this more cake-like one. After the raisins were done soaking, it literally took 5 minutes to make!

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Ailbhe October 31, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Lovely. Just made my Hallowe’en tea bracks yesterday! My version doesn’t have cherries but does have mixed peel and a good gluuug of whiskey too. It smelled fantastic as it marinated overnight. Now all honey glazed and ready for slicing and buttering tonight. Happy Hallowe’en : )

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Kristin November 3, 2011 at 10:02 am

This was the first recipe I’d ever seen that had cherries in it, but I figured since it was Darina Allen’s recipe, there must be some basis for it. And besides, my little girl loves them, which is as good a reason as any to put them in. Hope you enjoyed yours!

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Moya October 31, 2011 at 3:43 pm

It has been a long time since I made a barmbrack, love the post, brings back memories when as kids we would want to finish the whole thing in one sitting so as to find the money or the ring…fond memories.

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Kristin November 3, 2011 at 10:02 am

Thanks Moya!

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Magda's Cauldron October 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I see that a bambrack is very popular. I must try it one day. It is quite similar to Polish keks.
Poor tourist, I hope they didn’t think bad about Irish bakeries.

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Yadsia @ShopCookMake October 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

That really looks pretty.

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nessa robins November 1, 2011 at 10:04 am

I love Barmbrack especially with plenty of butter. This looks like a very nice recipe. As ever your photo is really lovely.

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Kristin November 3, 2011 at 10:01 am

With plenty of butter is the only way to have it, really!

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Audrey November 24, 2011 at 3:14 am

I’m salivating while as I wait for it to finish baking. I could never get enough as a child (lots of butter, and often lightly toasted). Quite an achievement from one who always detested cake (fruit cake included).

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Kristin November 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

Hope you enjoyed it!

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Christine de Jong December 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I make this Barmbrack already years, I am Dutch, living on a small greek island, and love cooking. In one of my cook books I discovered this years ago, and it is all winter available, and everybody loves it, i don’t add cherries, but my (chopped) dried figs and dates and apricots. In the morning by the coffee, afternoon with tea, in the evening, anytime of the day when hungry, like a snack, or on a trip walking, or in the car, it is always GREAT!!!!!! Just now read the tradition, to put something inside, like the Greek does with their New Years bread.

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Christine de Jong December 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Forgot to mention it freeze very well! So make in advance!

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Kristin December 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Thanks for the tip about freezing it, I’ll try that next year!

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izan December 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

hi
This is the first time i heard about bram back,
may I shared the recipe?
tq

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Kristin January 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Of course, thanks for asking!

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Jean Tubridy October 13, 2012 at 11:12 am

Sumptuous recipe! Have to say, as a real Halloween ‘child,’ I consider the ring and coins to be essential ingredients. Oh, the delight of the silver sixpence with the greyhound or the golden octagonal threepenny bit, not to talk of the ring and dreams of my knight is shining armour! Back then, they were wrapped in tinfoil which could be a bit of a business on the teeth! Parchment is a great idea.

Lovely post, thanks.

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Kristin October 13, 2012 at 11:17 am

What lovely memories, thanks so much for sharing!

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Mairead October 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Just want I was looking for. This looks delicious.

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Kristin October 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Thanks, Mairead – enjoy!

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Sara Brown October 28, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Mine is in the oven as I type this. I can’t wait to share with my kids and co workers! Thanks so much. I can’t wait to try some of your other recipes now.

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Kristin November 2, 2012 at 8:18 am

I hope everyone enjoyed it! I made another one last weekend too.

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Sara November 3, 2012 at 3:39 am

Everyone loved it. In fact a couple asked me if I could make it for them for the holidays. (I occasionally make bread and sell it during the holidays for those who want home baked rolls and such but no time to make it :) I used just tea since I took it to work. They asked me to use the whiskey in the stuff they asked to make! THANKS! again, I directed them to your website as well. :)

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Irma November 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Hi!
I’ve just baked this sweet bread. The smell is delicious, I can’t wait to taste it!
thanks for the recipe!
Irma

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Kristin November 9, 2012 at 6:51 am

I hope you enjoyed it, Irma!

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Cory November 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Thanks for the recipe, Kristin! I made this last night, and it was delicious, but I did have a question about the top crust. Mine wound up being a little crunchy (not that I’m complaining!), and I was just wondering if that is normal for barmbrack or if I overbaked mine slightly. Thanks again!

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Kristin December 4, 2012 at 11:10 am

I have to admit that I’ve never had that happen. If you think the top is getting overbaked, try covering it loosely with tin foil. Happy to hear you enjoyed it all the same though!

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Michelle October 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I am just curious, what do you mean by Mixed spice? is this a random combination of spices? or a specific mix?

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Kristin October 10, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Hi Michelle, mixed spice refers to a specific mix of spices (check out the Wikipedia page about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_spice). If you can’t get ready-made mixed spice, you could just substitute allspice and the brack will still turn out great.

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Mary January 26, 2014 at 12:47 am

just checking if I could use a non-alcoholic mulled punch in this recipe for Barmbrack or, would this be too sweet to add with the cold tea ? thanks….

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Kristin January 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I made this brack with stout instead of tea once and it turned out well, though it was stickier in texture. It’s certainly worth a try!

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