Tag Archives: Ireland

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.






Experience a real taste of Ireland

Ireland May 2015 I 069

The fish counter at Dublin gourmet market Fallon & Byrne’s.

Long before I started this blog, I was an evangelist for the high quality of food in Ireland where the seafood is literally fresh off the boat, cheese and butter come from grass fed cows, and local butchers still make their own sausages. In every home you will be offered a cup of tea, usually with a slice of cake or bread spread with deep yellow butter.  If you visit, you will quickly learn that hospitality is an intrinsic part of Irish culture and farm to table is not a fad, it’s a way of life.  Saveur magazine founder and award winning cookbook author Colman Andrews has called Ireland “…one of the most exciting food stories in the world today.”

If you want to experience a real taste of Ireland for yourself, Chicago travel company Global Gourmands,  is offering a culinary tour of the Emerald Isle this May.  Founded by luxury travel pros,  Susan Gillato and Claudia Royston, Global Gourmands specializes in small group tours that offer memorable food and adventures not available to the average tourist.    Forage for wild edible plants in a Wicklow forest.  Go fishing off the spectacular Dingle peninsula and prepare your catch at a local cooking school.  Explore the food stalls and make new friends at Cork’s historic English Market.  Enjoy traditional food prepared in new ways at world class restaurants.  The tour also includes two nights at the famous Ballymaloe House Hotel and a class at Ballymaloe’s world famous cookery school.

Wild garlic growing along a rural Irish road.

Wild garlic growing along a rural Irish road.

Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co. Cork.

Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co. Cork.

Listen to Susan and Claudia talk about their travel philosophy and the Ireland tour on Edible Chicago’s latest Deep Dish Cafe podcast.  Global Gourmands’ Ireland tour was featured in Edible Chicago’s Winter issue as well as the February 2016 issue of Irish American News.  For more information and recent news articles about the trip go to http://www.globalgourmands.com.  If you like this post, please share it.

Me with Cork's most famous fish monger Pat O'Connell of K. O'Connell's in the city's English Market.

Me with Cork’s most famous fish monger Pat O’Connell of K. O’Connell’s in the city’s English Market.



Coppola is big fan of Irish ice cream

In an interview in the Wall St. Journal last week,  Francis Ford Coppola let the cat out of the bag about Irish ice cream.  The “Godfather” director said “The most underrated destination is: View PostIreland. It’s a beautiful country, and the people are extraordinary. They have such a wonderful literary tradition, one of warmth and humor. Also, Irish ice cream is among the best in the world, which no one knows.”  Read the full article here: online.wsj.com/articles/francis-ford-coppola-talks-travel-1407436237.

Irish ice cream and other dairy products are made from milk from cows that can graze outdoors almost year round.

When we were teens, my friend Maire had a summer job in the kiosk at Portmarnock beach — a blue snack shack at the steps to the most beautiful beach in the Dublin area.  The most popular item was a “99” — a creamy swirl of whipped, aka soft serve, ice cream (always vanilla) in a wafer cone topped with Cadbury’s Flake, a flaky stick of milk chocolate.  Although we weren’t paid to be there, as teenage girls we spent a lot of time at the kiosk on sunny afternoons.  It was the primo spot to see which boys were at the beach that day and, of course, eat ice cream.

Cadbury’s chocolate is not manufactured in Dublin anymore, but you can still buy Flakes in Irish import stores or online and make your own version of a “99.”  If you don’t have soft serve, crumble the flake over regular freezer case ice cream for an Irish summer treat.

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'99' ice cream