Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Irish treat for Hallowe'en - Barm Brack and the return of Pumpkin Boy 2009!


Barm Brack, steaming hot tea, lashings of butter, autumn leaves and PUMPKIN BOY - my pumpkin from 2009 who spent the entire winter outdoors, miraculously became freeze dried and deteriorated no further once I brought him back indoors - he's been happy ever since!

Barm Brack or Bairin Beac is a traditional Irish yeast bread baked for Hallowe'en. Barm or bairin means the frothy yeast from the top of brewing beer which in olden times people used to rise their breads (going barmy means, in the north of England going crazy) - and brack or breac means speckled - because the raisins are speckled throughout the bread and some of them tend to break up when the dough is kneaded.

I tried this recipe twice as the first one was just too big and it got really dark on the top before it was cooked all the way through - a fact I didn't know until it cooled and there was a wodge of uncooked dough through the middle - this is how it looked when it was cooling - I thought it looked fine but I was wrong - I also lined the pan with greaseproof paper but it stuck badly - didn't do that one the second try and it was much better.
First attempt - not so good - that horizontal line is where it was, sadly, uncooked.
My second attempt worked yea!!!

RECIPE from "Irish Baking Book" by Ruth Isabel Ross

INGREDIENTS for two good sized loaves - this recipe rises like crazy or should I say barmy!! This particular recipe didn't call for it but I decided to start the day before and soak my raisins overnight in good strong tea - my Mum always did that and I have been doing it for anything that requires a bit of moistness like a breadcake or Christmas cake or pudding. It adds a really lovely note to the finished recipe. SO if you want to do that take 8oz raisins and soak them in a good covering of strong, hot tea - preferably overnight but for at least 4 hours to really plump them up - of course you can just use regular raisins or sultanas (a more moist raisin from green grapes). BEFORE you begin baking strain the tea off your raisins - if you wish you can replace a little of the milk in the dough with this sweet tea mix to add more raisin flavour to the dough).

Pre heat one's oven to 400F
1lb white flour preferably unbleached
8oz raisin (soaked in tea or not) or sultanas
4oz candied peel (this is traditional - I didn't use it as I didn't have any around but feel free to put this ingredient in or not)
Pinch of salt
1/2 oz or two packs of dried yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
10fl oz whole milk
2oz butter
2oz sugar
1 egg beaten
1-2 teaspoons nutmeg (depending on your taste for this spice)
1-2 teaspoons cardamom (depending on your taste for this spice)

Separately dissolve a couple of tablespoons of sugar in the same amount of water as a glaze  .

1. Put flour and salt in a bowl and mix together.
2. Sprinkle the dried yeast on the warm water.
3. Warm the milk with the butter until tepid.
4. Add the yeast mix, spices, milk, butter, egg and sugar all into the flour and mix well.
5. THIS IS A WET DOUGH!!
6. Flour a board well and tip the mix onto it.
7. Start kneading and add flour as you go - the recipe didn't say to do this but the mixture was so wet I didn't have a choice - and the bread turned out great so I don't think it was wrong - continue kneading for about 15 minutes and it will become elastic and smooth and still quite soft.
8. Put into a warm bowl , cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a snug, warm place for about 1 hour - it will rise like a champion.
9. Now for more stickiness - put dough back onto floured board and start kneading and adding the raisins - this is quite hard to do and I found out the reason why you don't put the raisins in until now - I was watching the Great British Bake Off (a really good cooking challenge show with historical facts and sweet people - watch it if you can - maybe when you are ready to eat your Barm Brack!!) on YouTube and they explained this in the show - is because the moisture and sweetness may affect the rising of the dough - but honestly I think it would be EASIER to add them earlier - anyway do your best and knead as many raisins as you can evenly through the dough - mine looked like this below when I was finished - I should have added more raisins in hindsight and kneaded longer for better distribution - I didn't get them all in - I'll try harder next time!!
Nice and sticky!!
10. Divide evenly into 2 well greased 8" diameter cake pans, cover with cloths and allow to rise again for another 20 minutes - mine rose again like BARMY!!! - once again being the naughty girl I am I did mine in a 6" round pans that are taller than the average pan (because I love it and the resulting baked goods look so cute!)  and they came out well - but I think an 8" would be easier to judge when it's ready because it would be shallower and not be prone to brown quite so much on the top.
11. Put in to bake for about 35-45 minutes but check regularly as I found it browns really quickly.
12. The ony real way to know it is done is to jiggle it a bit and see if there's just too much movement which was the case with my first one but I then didn't know what that meant OR remove it from the pan and rap the bottom with your knuckle an listen for an 'empty' sound - pretty esoteric but you'll know what I mean when you hear it - don't burn your fingers doing this!!
 13. When you think it's done - and this is something you have to learn to sense with more bread baking experience - remove it from the oven - leave the oven on, and brush the top with the water sugar glaze.
14. Pop back in the oven for about 5 minutes and you'll get a nice shine on your loaf.
15. Remove - let stand about 10 minutes, run a knife around the edge and take out of the pan - leave to cool on a cooling rack.
16. When completely cold, slice (it's easier to slice when cold), toast - it catches very easily when toasting so keep an eye on it - butter generously and avail yourself of a nice cup of tea RELAX and have a nice quiet moment to yourself.
Really - this is just like a GIANT Hot Cross Bun!
Now THAT'S a piece of toast - YUM!!!!!!!!!
 Happy Baking - let me know how it comes out - always feel free to post pics on my Facebook page - I'd love to see your Barm Brack!! 
Waugh - the ghosts are here!!
HAPPY HALLOWE'EN

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