The Art of Darkness

Barmbrack: Traditional Halloween Bread

October 24th, 2012 by Cobwebs

BarmbrackThis is one of those things that I’d swear I posted about once, long ago, but a dig through the archives suggests I may have been hallucinating.

Barmbrack/barnbrack/brack is an Irish sweet bread which is traditionally used as the medium for fortune-telling on Halloween. Wikipedia explains:

Barmbrack is the centre of an Irish Halloween custom. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game.[2] In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Other articles added to the brack include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary to symbolise going into the priesthood or to the Nuns, although this tradition is not widely continued in the present day.

There are two main types of the bread, one a quick bread made with a chemical leavener such as baking powder and the other leavened with yeast. Both are filled with dried fruit that has been soaked in tea.

The Evening Hérault has representative recipes for both types* and a quick google will turn up loads of other examples. This one, for instance, substitutes whiskey for part of the tea.

As nearly as I can tell, there’s no traditional shape for the loaves; they appear to most commonly be baked in either round or loaf pans, but for the quick bread you could use a ring mold or any other pan that will hold the dough (it’s probably too thick for really intricately-detailed cake pans), and for the yeast version you could braid it or try other freeform shapes.

If you plan to include charms in the dough, remember to wrap each one in waxed paper before insertion. (And, obviously, since they’re choking hazards the charms aren’t suitable for small children.)

This is a lovely bread for breakfast or tea, served warm with butter.


*Incidentally, if you don’t have self-rising flour, you can make it yourself: For each cup called for in the recipe, substitute 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt.

Posted in Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. Terri Says:

    Oh, this sounds so good. I love quickbreads, so I’m going to add this to the list.

  2. Beans Says:

    Not quite the same but my mum who is British, would often hide little trinkets or coins in cakes. I wonder if her idea came from Barmbrack? I’ll have to ask…

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