Sweet and eggy Barmbrack is an Irish Halloween tradition. Grab a slice of this Halloween bread with a good smear of butter, and it might just tell your fortune!
Barmbrack: Fruited Irish Bread
Most of the time, when we think of Irish bread, we think of Irish soda bread. But, today we’re bringing you a different type of Irish bread: barmbrack.
Barmbrack is a sweet, eggy bread that is studded with dried fruit. The name comes from two words: the old English “beorma” which is a yeasty fermented liquor, and the Irish word “brack” meaning speckled. So, barmbrack is a “yeasty speckled bread“.
A bit of Halloween history
Did you know that Halloween has deep Celtic roots?
The history of Halloween can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-in), which celebrated the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of winter. It was believed that October 31st, the last night of their year, the boundary between the living and after worlds became blurred and the ghosts of the dead could return to earth.
An Irish Halloween Tradition
On Halloween in Ireland, it is common to serve colcannon and barmbrack. Thick slices of warm bread are slathered with butter and served with tea. But, be careful as you bite into your slice of barmbrack, because you might find a surprise in your slice that will tell your fortune for the year ahead.
While most Irish homes only bake a penny (for good fortune) into their bread these days, in the past it was traditional to bake a number of items into the bread. If you got the ring, you were going to be wed. If you got the pea, you wouldn’t be married in the coming year. If you got the small piece of cloth, your financial future did not look too prosperous.
We decided not to bake any items into our barmbrack. But, if we were bringing it to a party or sharing it with friends, it would be a fun game, that’s for sure.
If you did want to bake anything into your bread, we would recommend wrapping it in a piece of baking parchment (parchment paper) (NOT wax paper or butcher paper) before mixing it into your bread dough when you add the dried fruit.
Our Irish Barmbrack Recipe
Traditional Irish Barmbrack includes a spice that is known in Ireland and Britain as “mixed spice”. From what we have read, this spice is very similar to American “pumpkin pie spice”.
Our recipe below breaks the spice down to its common elements: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. But, if you have a favorite pumpkin pie spice, feel free to use 1 Tbsp of that instead of the warm spices in the bread.
Making Halloween bread with dried fruit
The important thing to remember when making a yeast bread that contains dried fruit is that the fruit will soak up moisture as the bread rises and bakes. This means that your dough should be slightly sticky after the first kneading.
You’ll be surprised to find that the dough isn’t very sticky at all when you take it out to shape it after the first proofing.
Yield: 1 (7 inch diameter) round loaf
- ¾ c milk, warmed to 80F
- 2 Tbsp salted butter, melted
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
- 3 c unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 tsp cinnamon*
- ½ tsp nutmeg*
- ¼ tsp ground cloves*
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 c mixed dried fruit (raisins, craisins, golden raisins, etc)
- 1 egg white beaten with 1 Tbsp water (for egg wash)
- In a large bowl, mix the warm milk and melted butter. Add the sugar and mix well, until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle the yeast over top of the milk mixture and let it stand until foamy, 5 min.
- Mix the yeast mixture and mix in the beaten egg.
- Add 2 cups of flour, the spices, and the salt. Mix well.
- Mix in the dried fruit.
- Continue adding the remaining flour, mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon after each addition until a sticky dough starts to come together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough a few turns, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking too much to your hands or the counter.
- Place the dough into a clean, greased bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. Place the dough in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled, roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Once the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough a few turns, adding a little flour, as necessary, to keep it from sticking. (The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.)
- Shape the dough into a round loaf and place it on a well-greased baking sheet.
- Brush the dough with the a little of the beaten egg white and water mixture and set it aside to rise in a warm, draft free place for 35-40 minutes.
- Near the end of rising time, preheat your oven to 350F.
- Once the dough has risen, bake the bread for 35-40 minutes. When done, the loaf will be deep golden brown on top and the bottom will sound hollow when tapped.
- Place the cooked loaf on a wire rack to cool slightly before slicing and serving warm with butter.
*If you have a favorite pumpkin pie spice, you can substitute the warm spices in this recipe for 1 Tbsp of pumpkin pie spice.