Hallowe’en barmbrack

It appears that Australians don’t do Hallowe’en.

It makes a lot of sense; obviously October evenings in the southern hemisphere are a lot less cold, dark and, well, scary than they are back home. Which I guess is why Hallowe’en never took off here, despite the influx of Irish immigrants over the years, and why it flourished in the States instead.

It does slightly bother me that the American version of Hallowe’en is all that’s widely known here; no one realises that it’s an ancient Celtic festival. Therefore, the focus is all on trick-or-treating, and nothing else. No bobbing for apples, no bonfires and no barmbrack. I have decided that I’m on a one-woman mission to change all this. I did have to go to stupid work today though, so I only got as far as the barmbrack, but every little counts. Right?

Barmbrack is a traditional Irish fruit bread made to celebrate Oíche Shamhna (Hallowe’en night). It’s not only totally delish but is also loads of fun as it contains some odd little things you don’t normally find in baked goods, such as a ring, a coin, a pea, a piece of cloth and a stick. These objects mean different things for the person who finds them. The ring and the coin are the two best-known ones, they indicate that the finder will either get married in the coming year or get rich. The others are not so optimistic. The pea means the finder will not get married that year, the piece of cloth means they will be poor and the stick means they’ll have an unhappy marriage. Presumably, the stick was to be used a weapon! Lovely!

Hallowe’en Barmbrack


1 cup raisins
½ cup currents
60g (2 oz) candied peel
1 pot of tea
450 g (1 lb) baker’s flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1tsp tepid milk
½ cup sugar
1 cup tepid milk
1 egg
For Sticky Bun Wash:
1 cup of water
225g (½ lb) sugar

The recipe makes two medium loafs. It is from The Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, although I have altered it slightly.

The night before you’re going to make this, soak the dried fruit in a pot of tea. Darina doesn’t say to do this, but I’ve never heard of a barmback made without tea before and I just couldn’t forgo it.

The next day, preheat the oven to 180 °C. Sift the flour, cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and salt together in a bowl. Rub in the butter, until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the sugar, and mix well.

Mix the yeast with one teaspoon of the sugar and one teaspoon of tepid milk, and leave for 5 minutes or until it’s all nice and frothy. Add the remainder of the milk and the egg, whisking lightly.

Next, add the yeast, milk and egg mixture to the dry ingredients and kneed together into a nice elastic dough. Strain the soaking fruit and fold into the dough, you may need to add more flour if it gets a little sticky. Cover the dough mixture and leave in a nice warm place until it has doubled in size.

Next, knock back the dough and kneed for a further 2 minutes. Wrap up whatever little surprises you want to include in greaseproof paper and fold these into the dough. Cover again and leave to rise for a further 40 minutes.

Grease and flour two medium loaf tins and bake for about an hour or until a knife comes out clean.

Once the barmbrack is nearly ready, start to make the sticky bun wash by mixing the sugar and water together and boiling for two minutes. Once the loafs are ready, glaze the top with the bun wash and pop back into the oven for a further 2 minutes to make a nice glaze.

Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve in thick slices that are smothered in butter, preferably with a big cup of Barry’s tea for one Hallowe’en treat you won’t soon forget.



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