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Halloween, All Souls night is a very Irish tradition. Barmbrack is a tea flavored cake with dried fruits that is seasonal this time of year.
The word Barmbrack probably comes from bairín breac - speckled loaf - the same etymology as Welsh bara brith.
In Connemara it is quite usual to see dried fruit and treacle added to soda bread to give sweetness and flavour.
This is a more east of Ireland version, but with gusto and without yeast which some recipes have, this is far simpler, and great for kids as the recipe gives easy results.
Traditionally simple black Irish tea (which is mostly Ceylonese) is used, I use Lapsang Souchong to give a deep smokey flavour and fantastic aroma.
If Whiskey is used, then the smokeyness really adds to it.
Its very simple.
You will need -
300ml / 1/2 pint lukewarm tea - I highly recommend Lapsang Souchong, but you can use plain black tea. Just make sure its STRONG-Stewed and black.
225g / 8oz Flour
2 heaped teaspoons of baking powder
375g packet of Fruit Mix (or make your own, currants, sultanas, candied peel)
80g Sugar - I use dark brown Muscovado, but any will do.
125g / 4oz Caster Sugar
1 Egg (beaten)
1 teaspoon Mixed Spice* - I use my own blend that is given below
Pinch smoked paprika if you have it (optional)
50ml - good dash of Whiskey (optional, but a good addition)
You can add some chopped nuts if you like (walnuts and/or hazelnuts are seasonal and good)
Even a good sprinkle of rolled oats gives nice texture and flavour - it really is a catch all.a
A lot of people add glazed cherries, but I don't really like them or feel that they are traditional, these cakes were made by working class small farmers after all. Flour, egg, sugar, tea and a drop of whiskey would have been staples, with the dried fruit and mixed spice to give seasonal variation.
Soak the fruit, nuts, rolled oats and sugar with the mixed spice and smoked paprika for at least an hour - overnight is best.
Now blend the flour and baking powder.
Make a well and break in the egg and mix
Mix in the tea soaked ingredients.
Add a good bit of the liquid from the soaked ingredients and mix it through.
You may not need all the liquid, though you are looking for a wet dough.
Pour the mixture into a buttered or non-stick loaf tin, 1.5 or 2L capacity is about right.
Bake in a preheated oven 170°C/325°F/Gas 3 for approx. one hour or until risen and firm to the touch.
Its actually better if its left for two days wrapped in baking paper
Fantastic smeared in butter, and a nice cup of tea
*Simons Mixed Spice
This is my own blend. Its a bit more fragrant than commercial types,
the cardamom takes an edge off the very sweet taste, makes it more savoury.
But you can adjust it as you wish, and commercial types are perfectly OK for this, but I would recommend the cardamom as an addition.
1 tsp ground mace.
1 tsp ground allspice or pimento corns.
1 tsp ground cinnamon.
1 tsp ground nutmeg.
1 tsp cloves (or ground)
1 tsp ground coriander or 1.5 coriander seed.
1 tsp ground Ginger
1/2 tsp Paprika
8 Green cardamon pods
Grind down and mix in a coffee grinder, put in airtight jar - label, store.