The word "Halloween" owes its origin to the ancient Celtic harvest feast called Samhain, which occurred on the eve of the Celtic New Year, November 1. Several foods are traditionally eaten at this time, especially Colcannon and Barmbrack, a yeast fruit bread. According to tradition, hidden in the Halloween Barmbrack were tokens to foretell the future — a ring for the bride-to-be, a thimble for the one who would never marry, a coin for the one who would be wealthy, and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor. Fortune-telling aside, Barmbrack is delicious anytime of the year, but is most popular in the autumn. Serve it spread with butter and toast “Happy Halloween” (oíche shamhna shona duit!) A version of this recipe was first published in my "Irish Heritage Cookbook."
Makes 1 loaf
2 cups/225 g dried fruit such as raisins, sultanas, and currants
1 heaping tbsp. candied mixed peel
2 cups/500 ml strong tea
3 1/2 cups/300 g flour, sifted
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
One (1/4 oz./7 g) package rapid rise active dried yeast (see Note)
4 tbsp. Kerrygold Irish butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup/250 ml milk
1 large egg, beaten
Softened butter for serving
1. In a medium glass bowl, soak the fruit in the tea overnight.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and yeast. With a pastry cutter or your fingers, work in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
3. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk to 120° F/48° C. Beat the egg into the milk and then stir into the dry ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon, and then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for 5-6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth.
4. Drain the fruit and knead it into the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth, and let rest for 10 minutes.
5. Transfer the dough to a greased 8 in./20 cm round pan, cover, and let it rise again for 30-45 minutes, or until doubled in size.
6. Preheat oven to 400° F/200° C. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into slices. Serve spread with butter.
Note: Rapid rise yeast is mixed directly into the dry ingredients. It replaces the first rise in 2-rise recipes.
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