Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Barnbrack: An Authentic, Irish, Halloween Treat

As any Halloween nerd can tell you, everyone in Ireland eats Barnbrack on Halloween. (Nerds, you know who you are.)

On Halloween, Irish shops are filled with this traditional fruitbread with charms baked inside - though many people still bake it themselves.

The charms are the thing - fortune-telling is key to an authentic, Celtic Halloween and everyone in the family will want a slice of Barnbrack to see which charm they get. A ring or a bean means romance and a coin means prosperity. If you find the thimble, you will never marry! (Or you'll never prick your finger when you’re sewing. You decide.) And it’s also best to avoid the piece of rag - that means bad financial luck, and threads in your teeth.

If you buy a loaf of Barnbrack in a shop, it will contain at least a ring charm. But if you make your own, you can put any charms you like in it – just wrap each one in parchment or brown paper first. Tip from a pro: raid the Monopoly set.

Traditional Barnbrack

Servings: 8-10 (makes 1 loaf)

2 c. strong, black tea
2 c. mixed, dried fruit (raisins or currants, prunes, apricots, dates, cranberries, candied orange peel, etc.)
1 c. milk at room temperature
1 packet (.25 oz.) active dry yeast
2 t. + ¼ c. sugar
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. mixed spice*
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. sweet butter, softened at room temperature 
1 t. salt
charms, each wrapped in a small piece of parchment or brown paper
honey to glaze


1. Soak the dried fruit in the tea overnight, then drain well – for an hour or so.

2. Mix the yeast, warm milk and 2 t. of sugar together and set aside for 5-10 minutes to activate the yeast.

3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, ¼ c. sugar and spices. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, beaten egg, softened butter and salt.
4. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients well until it turns into dough. 
5. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky.
6. Knead the dried fruit a little at a time into the dough until all the fruit is incorporated. This is the tricky part; be patient and do it little by little. And don’t over-knead the fruit or it will break into bits.
7. Remove the dough to a large, buttered bowl. Cover it with a clean towel and set in a warm corner until it’s doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
8. Remove the dough to a floured surface and punch it down to deflate. Knead it lightly for 2-3 minutes, then push the charms into the dough until hidden.
9. Pat it back into a smooth ball and place it in a buttered 8-inch round cake pan. Cover it with a towel and let it rise again until doubled in size, around 60 minutes.
10. Preheat the oven to 400F.
11. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove to a rack and cool.
12. If you like, brush warmed honey over the brack to glaze it, then slice.
13. Serve with butter and a cup of tea.

* Mixed spice is a spice blend popular in the UK. It is made up of equal parts allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.


  1. Ok so for the Americans reading this the t. of sugar, mixed spice, and salt is what? A teaspoon (tsp) or a table spoon (TB)?

  2. Sorry about that! t. is teaspoon. For tablespoon, I use a capital T.