A recent visit to the beautiful tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka and buying some factory tea has inspired this post and had me in the kitchen baking a Barmbrack, a traditional Irish Tea Bread. Somewhere between cake and bread and not overly sweet, this homely moist loaf is packed with dried fruit plumped with tea. Sliced and slathered with the obligatory butter and enjoyed alongside a freshly brewed pot of loose tea … well what more can I say.
Although enjoyed throughout the year, barmbrack is traditionally made at Halloween. During this time a few fortune-telling trinkets like a ring and coin are baked inside the bread. If you get a slice of barmbrack with the coin, you will have wealth and good fortune in life and the ring symbolizes an up-coming romance or marriage. When we were kids a whole barmbrack (or two) would be eaten in one sitting… we all wanted the slice revealing the hidden fortune-telling trinkets. There was always anticipated excitement slicing a barmbrack, but it was also responsible for many sulking faces afterwards. Funny how everyone failed to mention that eating a whole barmbrack would also predict you would gain a few pounds.
You will need to brew a strong pot of tea and let it cool before soaking the dried fruit overnight, or for at least six hours. You can also line a loaf tin with non-stick baking parchment and have it ready well ahead of time. Then it’s only a matter of weighing and hand mixing in the rest of the ingredients before baking. As we have plenty of dates in our store cupboard, they usually end up in some of my fruit cakes and Date and Walnut Nut Roll , you can replace them with sultanas, raisins or currants if liked. If you intend placing rings or coins in the mixture, make sure nothing is plastic and give them a good wash beforehand. Warp each trinket tightly in a small piece of baking parchment before placing into the bread mixture.
The weather was not on our side this trip and we almost had to abandon the journey to Nuwara Eliya, as storms and torrential rain had caused landslides in the area. At the last moment we decided to brave the long journey up very winding roads and spent a total of eleven hours in a mini bus… but it was totally worth that cup of tea and amazing scenery and of course a few photos.
Barmbrack | Irish Tea Bread
300ml strong breakfast tea (made with loose tea leaves), cooled
50g dates (after removing the stone), chop into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
175g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon of mixed spices
pinch of ground cloves
2 teaspoons of baking powder
225g plain or all-purpose flour
coins or rings (or both), wrapped tightly in baking parchment (optional)
honey, for brushing over the top of the baked barmbrack
You will need a 13cm x 20cm loaf tin, sides and base lined with non-stick baking parchment.
How to make:
Place the dried fruit into a mixing bowl and pour over the tea. Leave the fruit to soak and plump up in the tea overnight, or for at least six hours.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/160 Fan/Gas 4.
Add the egg and brown sugar into the fruit and tea mixture, mix together. Sieve in the mixed spices, ground cloves, baking powder and flour. Stir all the ingredients together until combined.
Scrape the contents of the bowl into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top. If using, push the prepared trinkets down into the mixture until covered.
Bake the brambrack for 1 and a 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. When baked and still hot, brush over the top with a little honey to give a nice sheen. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Cut into slices and serve with butter. Keeps well for a couple of days, wrapped in baking parchment and cling film and stored in a cool place.