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Irish Barmbrack

Irish barmbrack is traditional to eat in Ireland around Christmas and also around Halloween. Here in the States we use St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate all things Irish, including the wonderful food. What I’m saying is that there’s no wrong time for this tasty treat! To go along with your coddle and your champ, this barmbrack is the ideal side or dessert. It can even be a yummy breakfast treat.

In Gaelic the origin of the word barmbrack is “bairín breac” which means “speckled bread.” So what exactly is barmbrack? This dish is a dark bread that’s been flavored with whiskey, raisins, and cinnamon. You can think of it as a cross between cake and cinnamon swirl bread. Some recipes don’t call for yeast while others do. To get a lovely rise we’re making the yeasted version. It does take a bit longer to make, but the results are well worth it.

Irish Barmbrack

You have to spend some time on this bread in any case since the raisins need to soak in a mixture of whiskey and cold tea for 4 hours or overnight. For the whiskey you can use rum to substitute if you don’t have any whiskey on hand. You can also use a teaspoon of rum or whiskey flavoring in a shot of water to replicate the flavor of the alcohol. In fact some liqueurs also work well here, like ginger or orange.

For the tea you can use any black tea you like. In my case I used a cup of Earl Grey tea to give it a more complex flavor. This strong tea gets its flavor from bergamot which is a type of citrus.

Irish Barmbrack

The fruit for these photos is a mix of golden raisins, regular raisins, and a few dried cranberries I had leftover. You can use candied orange or lemon peel or any dried fruit you love in this bread, too. However, candied citrus can be hard to track down so we’re using some dried orange zest as well just to be double sure the flavor of citrus comes through.

After letting the dough rise once, turn it out into a loaf pan and then let it rise a final time before baking.

Irish Barmbrack

Cut into slices to serve and treat yourself by toasting the slices and adding some nice Irish butter on top, too. And of course, don’t forget to make some hot tea to go with.

Yield(s): 8-10 slices

6h 20m prep time

50m cook time

257 calories

Allergens: Wheat, Gluten, Eggs, Citrus, Milk

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  • 1 3/4 cups raisins or dried fruit
  • 1 cup cold black tea
  • 1 shot whiskey or rum (or 1-2 teaspoons rum flavoring in shot of water)
  • 1 (.25 oz) packet dry active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk, warm but not hot
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing
  1. Combine raisins or fruit with tea and alcohol in medium bowl. Allow to sit for 3-4 hours or overnight. Drain fruit and reserve liquid.
  2. When ready to bake combine milk with yeast and granulated sugar. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until foamy or bubbling.
  3. In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt. Mix in egg, spices, lemon zest, orange zest, and butter. Mix in yeast mixture.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of fruit liquid at a time until a sticky dough forms. Reserve any leftover liquid.
  5. Fold in fruit and knead for 1-2 minutes. Cover bowl and set in warm place to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pour dough into lined and greased 8”x5” loaf pan. Allow to rise for 1 hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake for 60 minutes or until top is browned and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Bread should sound hollow when thumped. Cover with foil halfway through baking if browning too quickly on top.
  8. Brush with reserved fruit liquid while loaf is still hot. Allow to cool for 1 hour before cutting into slices and serving with butter.

Recipe adapted from Not Entirely Average.