In honor of Halloween, I would like to post a recipe for a special treat called barmbrack (bairín breac). It is kind of the ancestor of the store bought Halloween candies that kids get at night when they go out trick or treating.
Halloween originated from the beautiful ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-een). It means end of summer and is the celebration of the Celtic new year. Samhain divides the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year, the dark and the light. Also, they believed that on this day the division between the old (deceased people) and the new (living people) is the thinnest and we get to the souls of our ancestors the closest. It is a mysterious celebration that other cultures observe as well like in Diwali or Mexican Day of the dead.
People offer food for the spirits that appear on Earth during this time period. Barmbrack is the food that is given on Samhain to make sure that the spirits don’t play tricks on us. So yes barmbrack is the ancestor of the Halloween candies. Everybody in the family gets a slice and then they offer some to the spirits. People also went out to sing songs and tell scary stories on this night and received food in exchange.
This is a simple Irish soda bread with the addition of fruits, nuts, seeds and I also added chocolate chips for the occasion. You can add whatever you wish, whatever grows around you. I used fresh cranberries because they are available here right now but traditionally crab apples were used. Otherwise, I tried to keep the recipe to its original form. The Irish also soak the dried fruits in a strong brew of tea for the night but at least for one hour. I really enjoyed this moist sweet bread, there was a surprise in every bite … sometimes cranberries or raisins or prunes or cherries but the most special treat was the bite with the chocolate chips …
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
- 5 Tbsp sugar (1 Tbsp if apples are used instead of cranberries)
- 1 mug of strong English tea (double strength)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 1 cup of dried fruits ( I used currants, cherries, prunes)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 nutmeg, 1/4 cloves
- 1 cup of sliced fresh cranberries or shaved apples
- 5 Tbsp poppy seed
- hand-full of roughly chopped nuts of your choice – traditionally hazelnuts were used.
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 cups of buttermilk
- 2 Tbsp of a spirit of your choice (I used whisky) – (optional)
- 1/4-1/2 cups of chocolate chips
- Make a strong English tea. Pour it on the dried fruits and leave it on overnight but for at least 1 hour.
- Wash and slice the fresh cranberries. Put the slices in a small bowl and put in the sugar, whisky and the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves). If you use apples instead of cranberries, use 1 Tbsp sugar only! Let it stand until it releases its liquid.
- Set oven to 375 F.
- Measure out the 4 cups of flour, add the baking soda, salt. Whisk together. Work in the butter with hand, knives or electrical mixer. Mix in the poppy seeds.
- Squeeze the liquid out the dried fruits.
- Mix in the dried fruits, the cranberries( with the liquid), nuts, chocolate chips. Mix well.
- Make a well in the middle, add eggs, buttermilk and mix. Add more flour if needed.
- Put dough on lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball shape.
- Put it in a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
- Check to see if it is done. If the blade of a knife doesn’t come out clean, turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake longer 5-15 more minutes.
- When done, let it cool for half hour before serving.
Recipe, photos and text by twincitiesherbs.com.