Best served with tea as an afternoon snack, Irish Barmbrack Loaf is prepared with dried fruit that has been soaked in strong, hot tea. Super moist and flavourful, this loaf is inspired by traditional barmbrack bread.
This is one of those times that I’m putting my own spin on a traditional recipe. Traditionally, barmbrack is a yeast-based bread that is prepared and eaten during Halloween in Ireland. But, the flavours in this Irish Barmbrack Loaf recipe are just too good to keep until Halloween. I’ve changed the recipe so that it is prepared in loaf or cake style rather than bread.
With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, you know full well that every Facebook food group and every scroll through Pinterest is going to have Irish Soda Bread on repeat. Well, I’ve been there and I’ve done that. This year, I wanted something different, so I took the flavours and textures of barmbrack and baked them into this super moist and delicious loaf.
There are quite a number of ways you can approach this loaf. For example, the fruit you choose to use in your loaf can vary greatly. It’s a very forgiving recipe in those terms. Use what you like – raisins, currants, ginger, cherries, peels, citron, dates, apricots, etc. The only steadfast rule is that you must apply the right measurements, otherwise, your loaf may be too dry, or it will never bake all the way through. More on that later!
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WHAT IS BARMBRACK?
Barmbrack, sometimes referred to as just brack, is a quick bread with dried fruits like raisins. The bread is associated with Halloween in Ireland, where an item such as a ring is placed inside the bread. The person who gets the slice with the ring in it is considered to be the lucky one. In bread form, it is often served toasted with butter along with a cup of tea. It is sweeter than sandwich bread but not as rich as cake.
Barmbrack is the centre of an Irish Halloween custom. This bread is sometimes decorated on the top with animals, and it traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. Those items were a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin, a ring, and a bean. Each item represented a fortune.
If you received the pea, it meant you would not get married that year. If you got the stick, it meant you would have an unhappy marriage. The cloth meant bad luck, while the coin signified good fortune and riches. The ring, of course, meant that you would be married within the year. And, finally, the bean meant you would live your life being poor. Four out of the six things represented doom and gloom – who would want to take their chances with that bread?
INGREDIENTS NEEDED TO PREPARE THIS RECIPE
The following is a list of the ingredients needed to prepare this recipe. For exact amounts and measurements, refer to the printable recipe card located near the bottom of this post.
- Butter – Make sure your butter is at room temperature!
- Salt – This is a common ingredient in baking and cooking. In baking it helps to enhance and balance sweetness.
- Baking Soda – Commonly known as sodium bicarbonate, or just bicarb, it is a baking ingredient that’s activated by a liquid and an acid to help with leavening or rising. In most cases, you will see baking soda in recipes with lemon juice or buttermilk, but that’s not always the case.
- Brown Sugar – First of all, it has way more flavour than regular white sugar! And, in this recipe, brown sugar helps to keep the cookie moist and soft.
- Tea – You will need one cup of very hot, strongly brewed tea.
- Vanilla Extract – Probably the most common extract and the most common flavouring used in cakes and cookies.
- Flour – No need for anything special. Just use regular all-purpose flour. I have not tried this recipe with any other type of flour.
- Baking Powder – This is used to increase the volume of the batter and to add texture as well.
- Eggs – Whenever you set out to bake, make sure your eggs are at room temperature too – just like your butter!
- Spices – Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
- Dried Fruit
FROM BREAD TO A SWEET LOAF
I much prefer a loaf over a loaf of bread when it comes to packing it with dried fruits and berries. So, in this recipe, I have stayed true to the original flavours of the barmbrack bread, but instead of using yeast-based bread, I’m using a sweet loaf, much like banana bread – if you will.
Most of the traditional barmbrack breads would have included raisins and currants, but I wanted more texture. In my sweet loaf version, I’m using raisins, cranberries, apricots, candied ginger, and candied orange peel. You really don’t have to use all of those! As long as you stick to two cups of dried fruit, you’re all set.
If you don’t want to use all dried fruit, you can substitute some of it with nuts. When baking, I find that the best nuts to use are either pecans or walnuts. In this particular recipe, personally, I feel that walnuts would be best. Whatever ratio you use – dried fruit or nuts – be sure to not exceed two cups in total. That will ensure you have the right amount of batter to make a proper loaf.
HOW TO MAKE AN IRISH BARMBRACK LOAF
This recipe comes together in two steps, so I’m going to write out the recipe accordingly. Give yourself a little bit of wiggle room, because there is some downtime in this recipe. You’ll see what I mean here in the first part.
Step 1: Soaking the Dried Fruit
Once you have determined which dried fruits or berries you are using, chop them into small pieces and add them to a mixing bowl. In the same bowl, add the softened butter, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar. Set that aside while you prepare the tea. The tea must be strong and hot, so place two or three tea bags into a measuring cup. Once the water is boiled, pour it into the cup with the teabags. Do not pour in more than one cup of water; this will keep the tea very strong.
Use the back of a spoon to squeeze the tea flavour out of the bags and into the water. Remove the bags and pour the hot tea into the bowl with the chopped dried fruit. Use a spoon to stir to combine. Set that aside to cool for fifteen minutes.
Lord Byron’s Notes
Want to share this loaf with a friend or neighbour? You can easily double the recipe and divide the batter into small, aluminum baking tins. Once fully cooled, wrap in cellophane, tie it up with a ribbon, and drop it off at their home!
Step 2: Preparing the Batter
While the tea mixture cools, it’s time to prepare the remaining ingredients. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Set aside. In a separate, small bowl, whisk the two eggs. Set that aside.
Once the tea mixture has cooled for fifteen minutes, stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the flour. Add in the whisked eggs. With a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients together to form a batter. Set aside.
Step 3: Baking the Loaf
Lightly coat a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Depending on the size of your loaf pan, you might have more batter than you need. Do not fill the loaf pan more than 3/4 full with the batter. This recipe will require at least a 6-cup loaf pan. I used two of these loaf pans.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until your loaf is baked through. Be sure to test to see if the loaf is baked by inserting a clean wooden toothpick into the center of the loaf. If the toothpick comes out clean, the loaf is done and can be removed from the oven. Otherwise, bake for five minutes longer and perform the toothpick test again.
Once baked, remove from the oven and place onto a wire cooling rack. Allow the loaf to rest for fifteen minutes before turning it out of the loaf pan. Continue to cool on the cooling rack. When ready to slice, garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Enjoy!
SERVING UP YOUR BARMBRACK!
By now, you should have guessed that a barmbrack comes from humble beginnings. Even looking at it, you can tell that it isn’t pretty, it isn’t spectacular, and it surely isn’t show-stopping. But, that certainly doesn’t mean that your loaf shouldn’t be served with style!
Like scones and biscuits, I think loaves lend themselves quite well to what most people would call English Tea. I like to think of English Tea as an afternoon snack. And, afternoon snacks are terribly underrated! I like to partake whenever time permits. Hot coffee and a slice of this Irish Barmbrack Loaf, or any other sweet treat, is a great break from the 9-5 routine.
With spring on the way, I can’t think of a better way to serve this barmbrack than putting out a full set of tea, just like you see here in the photos. Sure, it might look like I have too much time on my hands, but life is short, folks – enjoy it! Take the tea set out of your cabinet, dust it off, and take a well-deserved afternoon break!
Do You Like This Recipe?
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Irish Barmbrack Loaf
- 2 cups chopped dried fruit (apricots, raisins, currants, cranberries, etc.)
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup tea, very strong and hot
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 large eggs
- Add the chopped dried fruit to a mixing bowl. Into the same bowl, add the softened butter, salt, baking soda, and brown sugar. Set aside.
- Prepare one cup of strong, hot tea. Pour it into the bowl with the chopped dried fruit. Use a spoon to stir to combine. Set that aside to cool for fifteen minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Set aside.
- In a separate, small bowl, whisk the two eggs. Set aside.
- Once the dried fruit and tea mixture has cooled for fifteen minutes, stir in the vanilla extract.
- Pour the tea mixture into the bowl with the flour. Add in the whisked eggs. With a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients together to form a batter. Set aside.
- Lightly coat a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Depending on the size of your loaf pan, you might have more batter than you need. Do not fill the loaf pan more than 3/4 full with the batter. This recipe will require at least a 6 cup loaf pan.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until your loaf is baked through. Be sure to test to see if the loaf is baked by inserting a clean wooden toothpick into the center of the loaf. If the toothpick comes out clean, the loaf is done and can be removed from the oven. Otherwise, bake for five minutes longer and perform the toothpick test again.
- Once baked, remove from the oven and place onto a wire cooling rack. Allow the loaf to rest for fifteen minutes before turning it out of the loaf pan. Continue to cool on the cooling rack. When ready to slice, garnish with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Enjoy!
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