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Barm Brack (Irish Halloween Bread)

Barm Brack is an Irish Halloween bread containing fruit and spices.

Barm Brack is an Irish bread eaten at Halloween. Fortune-telling charms such as a ring or coin are baked in the bread.

Barm Brack is a fruit bread made with yeast and spices eaten in Ireland around Halloween.  Barm is an old word for yeast and brack comes from breac, the Irish word for spotted., Warm autumn spices make it just the thing with a hot cup of tea on a raw October afternoon.  Toasted for breakfast, it’s a richer version of cinnamon raisin toast.

The bread’s popularity at Halloween is due to fortune-telling charms baked in the bread — a ring means marriage, a coin wealth, cloth poverty.  There is great excitement when someone finds the ring in their slice of brack.  Fortune-telling games were an essential part of Irish Halloween traditions because of the old pagan belief that the veil between this life and the next became thin at this time of the year.   The holiday has its roots in a Celtic harvest celebration that marked the end of the year and honored the dead. The Catholic Church turned the three day festival into a Christian holiday, All Saints’ or Hallows’ Day on November 1 and All Soul’s Day on November 2.  October 31 thus became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. Irish and Scots immigrants brought their holiday to America.  The more ghoulish American version of the holiday has returned to Europe in recent years.  For more about the origins of Halloween, read Edyth Preet’s story in Irish America magazine.

This recipe is adapted from Rachel Allen’s “Irish Family Food”.  I used homemade pumpkin pie spice for a brighter flavor, but you can certainly substitute the store bought spice mix.  My version also includes another American fall flavor — dried cranberries.

Not that it’s ever “safe” to bake tokens in bread, but If you plan to include a charm, be sure it is first well washed in hot soapy water and wrapped in a piece of parchment paper or cheesecloth so it’s easily identified and not accidentally swallowed.

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1 2/3 cups (225 g) white bread flour

2 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (see note for homemade spice mix)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. (25 g) unsalted butter

1 (1/4 oz. or 7 g) package of fast-acting yeast

1/4 cup (50 g) superfine (caster) sugar

2/3 cup (150 ml) whole milk, lukewarm

1 egg beaten

1 1/2 cups (200 g) mixed dried fruit such as golden raisins (sultanas), raisins, cranberries, and currants.

1 oz. (25 g) chopped mixed orange and lemon peel (I had to buy them separately at my supermarket and mix them)


Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 by 5 inch (23 by 13 cm) loaf pan.

Sift the flour, spice and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter, yeast and sugar.  Beat together by hand or in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.

Warm the milk until lukewarm, then add to the flour mixture with the beaten egg. Mix until the dough comes together.  Knead in the stand mixer using the dough hook attachment for 5 minutes or tip out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 8 minutes.  Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and knead for another 2 minutes.   If using charms, add them here.

Put the dough into the prepared tin, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius).

Remove the kitchen towel, place loaf in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until deep golden brown.  Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf, if it comes out clean, the bread is baked through.  If not, bake for another few minutes.   When it is ready, loosen the sides of the loaf from the tin using a spatula.  Tip it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Slice the loaf and serve it fresh or toasted with plenty of butter.

Note: To make homemade pumpkin pie spice, mix together 3 tbsp. ground cinnamon, 2 tbsp. ground ginger, 2 tsps. freshly ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice and 1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves.  You will only need 2 tbsp. for the brack, save the rest in an airtight container for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.






Irish Halloween Food

Halloween began as a pagan holiday in Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic countries.  Samhain (pronounced sow-in), marked  the end of the harvest and the end of the Celtic year. In a sense, Halloween is Celtic New Year’s Eve.

The Celts believed that on the last day of the year the line between this life and the afterlife was blurred and spirits moved freely between the worlds.  The presence of spirits made it possible to get a glimpse into the future and what lay ahead in the new year. Fortune telling plays a big part in Irish Halloween traditions.  Many Irish Halloween games and even food involve divination. Teenage girls throw apple peels over their left shoulder hoping the peel will form the initial of their future husband. Gold rings, coins and other charms that reveal the future are baked or hidden in special dishes eaten at the holiday such as barm brack — a fruit bread similar to the Italian panettone — and colcannon — kale or cabbage blended with mashed potatoes.  Whoever finds the gold ring in their slice of brack or serving of colcannon will marry within the year.  Finding the coin predicts future wealth and a thimble, poverty.

Although it is traditionally eaten at Halloween, I eat it through the autumn and winter.  It pairs well with a variety of dishes — corned beef, Irish bacon, roast pork and even salmon. Colcannon is one of my favorite comfort foods because I feel less guilt-ridden about eating mashed potatoes made with cream and butter if it serves as a delivery system for superfood kale.  Here’s a tip — blending nutritious kale with creamy mashed potatoes may help to introduce it to children and others who are wary of greens. Leftovers can be made into cakes and fried in butter, oil or — even better — bacon fat.


Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4



  • 2 cups chopped kale (12 to 14 stems), leaves removed from stems, washed and chopped
  • 2 large russet or other floury potatoes, peeled , washed and cut into quarters
  • 2 leeks, outer leaves removed, washed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
  • 2 tbsps. Butter
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Remove the kale leaves from the tough stems. Wash and chop. Cook for a few minutes in boiling salted water until the leaves soften. Drain and set aside.
  2. Peel and wash the potatoes. Cut them into evenly sized quarters and put them in a saucepan. Just cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn heat down, cover saucepan and simmer about ten minutes until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork but not mushy. Take saucepan off the heat. Drain the potatoes. Place them back in the saucepan. Cover the potatoes with a clean cotton dishtowel and cover saucepan. Place the saucepan over a very low heat for five minutes to dry the potatoes. Remove saucepan from heat.
  3. While the drained potatoes are drying over the low heat, place the chopped leeks and milk or cream in a small saucepan. Heat the milk, cook over a low heat for a few minutes to soften the leeks. Do not let the milk boil.
  4. Add the butter to the potatoes. Gradually add the milk and leek mixture (you may not need all of it) when mashing the potatoes.
  5. Blend in the cooked, chopped kale.
  6. The dish can be prepared in advance and kept warm, covered in the oven until ready to serve.


Cabbage can be substituted for kale. Scallions can be substituted for leeks. Leftover colcannon can be formed into cakes and fried in butter, oil or bacon fat.