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Brambrack is a delicious traditional Irish Halloween treat served warm with a generous spread of butter and paired perfectly with a cup of tea.
Brambrack is a rich and moist tea cake full of tea-soaked dried raisins, lemon & orange peel and mixed spices.
This cake is known in Ireland as Bairín Breac, which means “speckled bread” as in speckled with dried fruit.
It is traditional to serve Brambrack during Halloween in Ireland with some interesting customs that are still carried out to this day. For those who follow this tradition, different charms are placed randomly in the homemade tea cake. The most common charms are a ring (to be married soon), a coin (for good fortune), a thimble (possible spinsterhood) a piece of fabric (bad fortune), a pea (no marriage in sight!) and a matchstick (disputes in a marriage). Naturally, the coin and ring are the most popular charms to receive compared to the other gloomy ones.
Nowadays, very few bakeries in Ireland are keen to place charms or trinkets for fear of getting complaints or law suits for missing or cracked teeth, or even choking!
Soak the dried fruit for 24 hours
This long marinade in cold brewed tea is important to get that special, rich flavour.
Use fresh tea leaves
Avoid using tea bags and aim for breakfast or afternoon black tea leaves to brew in freshly boiled water for at least 10 mins. Sieve the tea into a jug over the dried fruit to marinate.
For those who like whisky!
The addition of whisky is popular, but for those who are nervous about using any gluten-free ingredients in whisky, I am pleased to say, that although barley is used to make whisky, the distillation process during manufacturing removes the gluten! If you are still dubious or would like to do some further reading, the UK coeliac organisation have plenty of information on this topic.
Although whisky is more traditional to use, substituting it with Limoncello or Cointreau works in this cake as they complement the dried fruit.
The best loaf tin to use
My first choice of loaf tin to use to bake Brambrack is a Pullman’s Loaf pan/tin to get that even shape and gloss. Apart from this, I would suggest using only a metal or non-stick loaf tin to get the same results. Using either a silicon or ceramic loaf tin will give it a lumpier finish and a lacklustre coating.
I have listed the five spices used which are typically found in a Mixed Spice blend, so if you happen to have a store-bought jar of it, add up the measurements from the recipe card and substitute it with this.
Fresh yeast versus dried active yeast
In this recipe, I prefer to use fresh yeast as it imparts a richer yeast flavour and a good rise to the tea bread.
A word about the dough
At the final stages of beating the dough for 10 mins either with a wooden spoon or in a benchtop stand mixer, it is important to note that the dough will be stiff and thick. Once the raisins and peel are added, the tea that was absorbed during the 24 hours, will moisten and loosen the dough while rising and baking.
Improving the flavour
Keeping the Brambrack for 2 days covered in plastic and a tea towel at room temperature before slicing it, will improve its flavour.
Converting it to a gluten-free Brambrack
Replacing gluten-plain flour with several different gluten-free flours and starches gives the Brambrack enough structure and texture. The addition of almond meal or flour gives it a richer flavour. If you have a favourite store-bought gluten-free flour blend, use this in place of all the listed flour and starches. Check to see if your blend already has xanthan gum or another binder included.
Otherwise adding xanthan gum or psyllium husk as binders is important but not vital. I tried it with and without. The only difference with not using a binder is that the Brambrack slice was crumbly. However, if you were to keep the Brambrack cake wrapped up for 2 days, the crumbling is less noticeable. Personally, I would use the binder if you intend to eat the cake on the same day as baking.
Gluten-Free Brambrack (Irish Tea Cake)
Dried Fruit Marinade:
- 350 ml cold brewed tea made from breakfast or afternoon (Irish if possible!) tea leaves
- 80 g mixed peel (lemon and orange peel)
- 250 g raisins or a mixture of currants and raisins
- 2 tbsp whisky, optional
- 15 g fresh yeast, or
- 1½ tsp dried yeast
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 4 tbsp milk warmed slightly
- 2 large eggs, or lightly beaten
- 2 medium eggs plus lightly beaten
- 1 egg white, leave out if using large eggs lightly beaten
- 65 g butter, at room temperature
- butter for greasing and serving with
- egg yolk for the glaze
Marinating dried fruit
- Brew the tea for 10 mins.
- Allow the tea to cool before adding the required measurement of liquid to the mixed peel and raisins in a jug.
- Add the whisky to the tea mixture (optional).
- Chill for 24 hours.
- Blend the fresh yeast with sugar and warm milk, cover and leave to react for 15 mins in a warm place.
- Grease the loaf tin and line it with baking paper by measuring the outside of the tin as shown in the photo.
- Sift the flour, spices and salt in a medium bowl.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the light brown sugar, yeast mixture, eggs and butter to it. Combine briefly.
- Drain the cold brewed tea from the dried fruit over the flour mixture, leaving the dried fruit to one side.
- Using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture for approx. 10 mins until stiff or use a benchtop stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and beat at medium-low speed.
- Fold in the dried fruit.
- Transfer the batter to the loaf tin and cover with a damp tea towel to rise for one hour in a warm area.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Bake for one hour on the middle shelf. Halfway through baking, cover the loaf with some foil.
- After one hour of baking, brush some beaten egg yolk on the top of the barmbrack and bake for a final 5 mins without the foil.
- Leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins before removing to a wire rack to cool down
- Serve warm or at room temperature with soft butter and a cup of tea.
- Keeping the Brambrack for 2 days covered in plastic and a tea towel at room temperature before slicing it, will improve its flavour.
- After these two days, it keeps for 5 days in an airtight container.
- Suitable to freeze whole or in slices.