Traditional Irish barmbrack is a soft and sweet yeasted fruit bread. Using a sourdough starter adds richness for a full-flavored cinnamon and raisin bread. Sourdough barmbrack is perfect served fresh from the oven with a cup of tea. It also makes amazing toast.
This version of barmbrack is fairly different from most of the recipes being served up to North Americans, which are actually for tea brack. Tea brack is a fruit cake where the fruit is either soaked in tea or whisky (depending on who is making it)!
However, having lived for several years in Ireland, I can assure you that yeasted barmbrack is equally as popular and traditional.
A Hallowe’en Tradition
Halloween is actually a traditional Irish holiday. It arises from the Celtic calendar. Samhain is said to be when the doorways open to the Otherworld.
Here are a few Irish Hallowe’en traditions:
- My Irish friends trick-or-treated as children. Well… everyone except Deirdre, who grew up in Belfast in the ’70s (as she put it… they had enough fireworks without Halloween).
- Carving Jack O’Lanterns (a very Irish-sounding name) was also traditional. But they didn’t have pumpkins growing up. Traditional Jack O’Lanterns are carved from really large turnips. Apparently, it’s a LOT harder to carve a turnip than a pumpkin, and many spoons were ruined by the effort.
- Barmbrack is a traditional Halloween treat. It was a fortune-telling bread with several objects baked into it. Here are a few examples:
- A ring meant that you would get married that year.
- Dried peas meant you wouldn’t marry that year.
- A stick meant that you would argue with your spouse all year.
- A coin meant you would be rich.
How to add charms to barmbrack
If you’re excited to try this fortune-telling tradition, here’s some advice for adding charms to your sourdough barmbrack:
- Be sure to fully clean and scrub whatever you are going to add to the bread.
- Wrap the charm in tinfoil.
- Add the charms when forming the bread, being careful to evenly distribute them throughout the loaf.
Traditional Irish barmbrack is a soft and sweet fruit bread. It is similar to cinnamon raisin bread. It’s delicious served fresh and hot from the oven, or toasted up with butter!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 45 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- Yield: 2 loaves 1x
- Category: Bread
- Method: Sourdough
- Cuisine: Irish
- Diet: Vegetarian
- 2 3/4 cups warm milk (22 oz)
- 6 1/4 cups strong white flour (28 oz)
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/4 cup sourdough starter (5 oz)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 Tbsp soft butter (room temperature, not melted)
- 2 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, currants, chopped apricots)
- 2 Tbsp milk
- Warm the milk to approximately 33 C / 93 F. Mix with the flour and yeast, then set it aside so the flour can hydrate for 15-30 minutes.
- Use the pincer method to mix in the remaining ingredients, including the sourdough starter, dried fruit, and butter. Don’t knead the dough, as you want a nice soft, texture.
- Allow the dough to rise in a warm location until doubled in volume (about 5 hours). Use the dough folding procedure 3-4 times during this rise.
- Place the dough on a well-floured surface and cut it into 2 equal pieces.
- Gently shape the dough, using flour as needed, but avoid kneading.
- For free-form loaves, place the dough balls in floured baskets (or bowls lined with floured tea towels). Otherwise, place the balls in greased tin loaf pans.
- Cover the loaves and leave them to rise in the refrigerator for 2-18 hours, until ready to bake.
- Preheat to 400 F (200 C).
- Brush the top of the loaves with milk.
- Bake for 25 minutes uncovered, then reduce the heat to 350 F (180 C) and bake for another 25-40 minutes until cooked. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Cool completely before slicing.
- I recommend baking free-formed loaves in a dutch oven which gives a nice, even heat and will help maintain the shape. Otherwise, use a metal cake pan or a pie plate. However, the cold dough is going into a hot oven, so I don’t recommend glass dishes.
- If you don’t maintain a sourdough starter, you can make a quick starter for this recipe. The sourdough is more for flavor than loft in this recipe.
Keywords: bram brack, raisin bread, traditional, Halloween, fruit bread, cinnamon bread, toast, winter, fall, breakfast, brunch