Cakes

Traditional Irish Barmbrack

4.62 from 18 votes
Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten.
Sliced, traditional Irish Barmbrack.

Hi Bold Bakers!

This is Patricia, Gemma’s mum. With Halloween just around the corner,  I wanted to share you with a traditional recipe for Irish Barmbrack (as gaeilge Bairin Breac), a cake that in Ireland we eat around Halloween. It is a cake rich in stories and traditions that I think you will find really interesting. Also, it’s just a delicious cake to have in the fall months with butter and a cup of tea.

A Brief History of Halloween

The origin of Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (Pronounced Sow-in) about 2.000 years ago. Samhain was celebrated by the ancient Celts in the belief that the souls of their ancestors returned to earth on this night causing general mischief and damaging crops. The druids, who were the Celtic priests, channeled these spirits to determine the future — fortune-telling if you will. Bonfires were built and animals were sacrificed to placate the spirits and to ensure safe passage through the winter period. To a point, it was both a celebration of the harvest and the casting of spells to ward off evil for the cold months ahead.

Ancient Celtic people in Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1st. It is regarded as All Saints Day (All Hallows) in the Catholic tradition, followed on the 2nd of November by All Souls day. The last day of October then was All Hallows Eve, which is what we now know as Halloween. The tradition has spread throughout the world at this point in time, the original meaning lost, but the ghost of the original idea remains in how we celebrate Halloween today.

Traditinoal Barmbrack, or Báirín Breac, sliced and ready to eat.

A Brief History of Barmbrack (As Gaeilge Bairín Breac)

Halloween today continues the ancient Celtic tradition to an extent. In olden times at Halloween, which coincided with the harvest, the fruit would be gathered to make the Christmas Cakes as this was a way to preserve the fruits which were a great luxury. The eggs which were free-range and seasonal would be scarcer as the winter months rolled on, and the butter too would be getting scarce. The Barmbrack in a sense was a taster, a treat at this time of year with the promise of Christmas. Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten. The Irish term for this, Bairín Breac, means ‘speckled bread’ indicating that the fruit was scarce in the loaf. The Druidic tradition is represented by the inclusion of charms in the bread, meant to indicate the fortune of the recipient. 

There were a few traditional charms: a ring, a coin, a pea, and a piece of fabric.                                                               

  • A pea, a dried pea, the person would not marry
  • A piece of cloth, the person would have bad luck or would be poor
  • A coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich
  • A ring, the person would be married within the year

The person who got the ring was meant to place it under his or her pillow when they would dream of the person they would marry! The ring is still included in a barmbrack today, though I think it is now regarded as just a little bit of fun.

Traditinoal Barmbrack, Báirín Breac, with Charm.

Watch The Recipe Video!

Traditional Irish Barmbrack

4.62 from 18 votes
Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten. Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten.
Author: Patricia Stafford
Servings: 12 people
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten. Not as rich as a Christmas cake, and more like a bread, with a scattering of dried fruit and spice when available, it was generally spread with butter to be eaten.
Author: Patricia Stafford
Servings: 12 people

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups (8.75oz/248g) raisins
  • 1 3/4 cups (8.75oz/248g) sultanas
  • 1 Zest of lemon, large
  • 1 Zest of orange, large
  • 1 1/3 cups (8oz/227g) dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups (16floz/500ml) black breakfast tea, hot and strong
  • 3 cups (15oz/426g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice (see notes)
  • 2 eggs , beaten

Instructions

  • Pre-heat the oven to 325°F (170°C) then butter and line 1 deep 9 Inch Cake Pan. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the raisins, sultanas, zests, and sugar.
  • Pour the hot tea over and stir to combine. Cover with cling wrap and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and spice.
  • Stir in the fruit mixture followed by the eggs, alternating between the two. Mix until no dry streaks remain and the batter is well incorporated.
  • At this point add in your charm wrapped in parchment paper. (see note in post above). Pour the batter into prepared pan.
  • Bake for about 80-90 minutes, or until the cake is golden and springs back when pressed. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely.
  • Slice and serve with butter. Store the Barm Brack at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 4 days. It is delicious toasted with butter and a cup of tea.

Recipe Notes

Mixed Spice Substitute: Mix together 1/4 teaspoon of each ground Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves and Ginger. 

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Comments & Reviews

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Sharon Newberry
Guest
Sharon Newberry
3 days ago

I did the first part of this recipe yesterday afternoon and completed and baked it this morning. My Irish roots made me curious about this tradition. And what did this produce? Why, the most beautiful explosion of flavors I have ever tasted in my life. This is a recipe that I am going to be making very often. It’s thousands of times better than raisin bread. There is no comparison to any other sweet bread there is, in my opinion I hereby am adopting it as a tradition in my house for Thanksgiving and Christmastime for company, and all the… Read more »

Cindy
Guest
Cindy
19 days ago

I made this but I added cranberries which worked well …thank you

Judy Pennington
Guest
20 days ago

I look forward to making this lovely looking bread. One question, could I use dried cranberries instead of the Sultana’s? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them. And would love to add some minced English walnuts or pecans. My mum used to make Date Nut bread when I was a kid and I loved it. Had a special flavor all of it’s own. I’m betting this will be just as good.

DELFLOW
Member
DELFLOW
22 days ago

My husband is Irish, 100% according to Ancestery.com, and when I saw this recipe I decided to make it for him. I found myself home alone with some time Saturday morning and got to it. I was a bit dismayed when I discovered the raisins had to be soaked overnight. However, I was not to be deterred, I mixed it all up and let it soak all day and then baked it that evening. It is out of this world! We slathered Irish butter all over it and it was absolutely divine. I am not sure my waist line is… Read more »

Evelyn Wooding
Guest
Evelyn Wooding
24 days ago

Gemma the conversion for the oven temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius you have given is wrong! 325F is just over 160C . My cake was in the oven for 30 min before it occurred to me that I had never baked a cake at 190 before! It’s cooling at present, it looks ok I hope I don’t have to make another as I promised I’d make this for our coffee morning !

Mia
Guest
Mia
24 days ago

Hi! I’m so happy you shared this tradition with us! Is there any way to make it without using tea? Thanks!

Rochelle
Guest
Rochelle
24 days ago

I made this recipe this morning. Divided the batter between two 6 – inch round cake pans – so I could share with friends. OMG! This cake/bread is absolutely delicious! It’s definitely a keeper! It’s now a part of my Halloween tradition!

Behrooz2u2
Member
Behrooz2u2
24 days ago

Good evening and happy Friday!

Thank you so much for sharing more of your tradition and history! Since you first shared this I’ve made made it four times.. Today I made three pans of it and slipped a coin in it 🙂 this is for our Samhain ritual tomorrow.. I’m excited about ritual but also to share this with our coven. Such a great addition and an even more amazing tradition.. Thank you Harry

Christine Cullen
Guest
Christine Cullen
25 days ago

Hi Gemma, this is not barmbrack rather it is Tea brack!
Barmbrack is made with yeast, and gets it’s name from ‘barm’- the yeast filled foam that forms on fermenting liquids such as beer that was used to leaven the bread.
Tea brack is delicious, but a very different thing, and never has charms!

Donna
Guest
Donna
26 days ago

I don’t get it, I used a 7inch tin and still its flat. I added in 2 teaspoons of baking powder as suggested. I blame France. I am having such difficulties baking here in comparison to my home (Ireland) – the ingredients aren’t the same and I am sure their ‘levure chimique’ is not as potent as the baking powder I am used to. I will still eat it but I am ashamed of the presentation, I tried scones a while back and they were also a huge disappointment. Do you know anything about French ingredients /tips/tricks? Thanks anyway for… Read more »

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