Irish Barmbrack Recipe

Last week I posted a blog about my not so successful Barmbrack recipe test with all the history behind it which you can read here. Not to be defeated and having made it successfully many times in the past I set about devising my own recipe. There are so many variations out there, interesting how there isn’t really a definitive recipe. Many use butter but in some it’s melted in others it’s rubbed into the flour, some use mixed spice while others use individual spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom), some use plain flour and others bread flour.

Having made a lot of these enriched breads in the past and eaten a lot ot Barmbracks in my time I decided to use my knowledge and instinct to come up with my own recipe. I have used quantities that I know work, ratio of dry to wet ingredients etc and this is what I came up with.


  • 450g Strong white bread flour
  • 30g Unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 30g Caster sugar
  • 150g Raisins
  • 50g Sultanas
  • 50g Mixed peel
  • 3/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground ginger
  • 300mls Whole milk
  • 2 tsp yeast (I use Doves yeast)
  • 1 tsp Caster sugar
  • 1 Egg, beaten



Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and rub in the butter until the mix looks like crumbs. Now add the dried fruit and spices and mix well. Some people will say that adding the fruit at this stage is wrong as it can affect the first rise but I find it a lot easier to add the fruit at this stage and I haven’t had problems with the rise. Adding them after the first rise is a messy business and sometimes means over working the dough.

Heat the milk until it is lukewarm and transfer to a bowl. Add a tsp of caster sugar and the yeast and leave for about 10 minutes until the yeast has created a foam on top of the milk.

Add the beaten egg and the milky yeast mixture to the dry ingredients. If you have a stand mixer, mix it using the dough hook for about 6 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic (this is a wet dough so don’t worry too much if it isn’t perfectly smooth). If not put the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Clean the bowl, rub with a bit of groundnut oil and replace the kneaded dough in the bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place (not too warm as it will rise too quickly and effect the texture of the bread) until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Knock back the dough, shape into a ball and place it in your prepared tin (this will make a nice high 8 inch round brack but you can also use a loaf tin. My tins just need a light oiling and they are ready) and leave to rise until it reaches the top of the tin, about 1 hour. Brush the top with milk.

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan) and bake for about 35 – 40 minutes. Check it at 30 minutes and if the top is browning too quickly cover with some tin foil until the end of the cooking. The top should be a lovely deep brown and when you tap the bottom it should sound hollow.

Ta da!
Ta da!

This is great eaten on the  same day with lots of butter and a cup of tea or coffee and subsequent days is yummy toasted with, you’re right,  lots of butter!


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Barmbrack – Recipe Test Take One

Some of you will have heard me mention the Barmbrack, either in person or on this very blog. It is an Irish sweet bread made for Halloween that is especially yummy toasted and smothered in butter alongside your preferred afternoon hot drink (mine being coffee, I don’t hold with tea, don’t believe in it!). Traditionally it would have objects baked into the brack that would tell your fortune for the coming year. They were a pea (the person won’t marry within the year), a matchstick (the person will have an unhappy marriage), a coin (the person would be rich), a ring (the person would marry within the year) and a piece of cloth (the person would have bad luck or be poor)!

When we were growing up my mother made this for Halloween, (not the yeasted version (which is my fave) but the light fruitcake version sometimes called a Tea Brack) and always added a pea, a matchstick, a coin and a ring (not the cloth, maybe because that fortune was just too bad!) and we would all scramble to find the coin or the ring. It was a fun Halloween tradition, along with apple bobbing and trying to take a bite out of an apple on a string with your hands tied behind your back! We enjoyed it, we were young.

As part of my seasonal offering at Cakes & Cakes I want to bring the Barmbrack to a wider audience. Unfortunately, these won’t have the fortune telling objects, health and safety risk I’m afraid! My first port of call for a recipe was my Maura Laverty book, it seemed like a fairly standard recipe if a touch on the large side, so I halved her quantities. It has bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast, milk, butter, sultanas, raisins, mixed peel and mixed spice. Some other recipes call for eggs but I went with this as a starting point.

This recipe calls for the fruit to be added after the first rise. As many of you will know adding ingredients to dough after the first rise is a nightmare, especially dried fruit. It just goes everywhere and it takes a lot of kneading to get it all incorporated. Wherein lay the problem, my dough was overworked. This became clear once it went in the oven, there was no rise at all and then when I cut into it it was very dense. It should be fluffy, almost a brioche texture. I also think the addition on an egg would help here too.

My flat Barmbrack just out of the oven
My flat Barmbrack just out of the oven

As you can see from the picture it was a sad looking beasty. So back to the drawing board on the recipe, I have devised one that I want to test next week so will let you know if my plan works. Despite it’s shortcomings it was still a very tasty sweet bread that kept me in buttery toasted yumminess for the last few days.

Buttery Barmbrack
Buttery Barmbrack


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Cakes & Cardies, It’s Official

8th September 2014, make a note of that date. The date that Cakes & Cardies finally opened its (metaphorical) doors for business! Yes, it has finally happened. Last Thursday was my last signing on day so I am now self-employed and the proud owner/chief dogsbody of a brand new business. And breathe.

Although nothing has changed today, everything has changed really. Now I have to work to make this a success, my focus has changed. As I mentioned last week I now have to go out and talk to people about Cakes & Cardies, I have to sell it. In fact I have already started. Over the weekend we went to the launch of the Nunhead Food Assembly. For those of you who haven’t heard about this it comes from France and champions local food and food producers. You can order food during the week (and pay for it online) and then pick it up from the producers at the assembly. The Nunhead one will take place every Sunday at The Ivy House, a local pub. I thought this might be interesting and maybe an opportunity so we went along yesterday. It was very busy, lots of interesting producers, fish, meat, cheese, bread, honey, there was even a beehive in attendance! I spoke to the organiser about cake producers and he said that they have someone already but that there might be room for two depending on the products. So card handed over and I will follow up with an email this week.

We decided to extend our Sunday morning and walked around to Evelina Road in Nunhead and popped into Bambuni, a lovely deli/cafe. After a ham and cheese toastie I asked where they got their cakes from and would they be interested in a local supplier. The guy was very nice and encouraging and said to bring in a cake sometime this week and they would see! So I am deciding what cake to go with and will let you know if anything comes of it.

Already some activity which makes me feel more confident about getting out there and talking about Cakes & Cardies. Today I have launched the facebook page and already have 16 likes! So if you find yourself there at any point like us and let all your friends know. The website will launch next week and I will be twittering and blogging about the progress. Not too much twittering, just the right amount!

I do have my first order, a 60th birthday cake due at the end of September and here’s hoping for more in the coming weeks and months. For Halloween I will be offering Barmbracks (an Irish sweet bread) and will be taking orders for those in the next week or two (keep and eye here, facebook and twitter).

I never thought this day would come but it has and here’s hoping it will all be worthwhile.


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