Barmbrack is a bread made with dried fruit that has been soaked in hot tea. It is traditionally served at Halloween in Ireland, but also makes for an excellent tea time treat, especially when tasted and generously slathered with butter! The Irish also call it Báirín Breac or “Speckled Bread”. Speckled because of the rains in the bread and that name comes from the Irish words “báirín” for loaf and “breac” for speckled.
The origin of Halloween goes back to the Celtic festival of “Samhain” which is derived from Old Irish and supposedly roughly translates to “Summer’s End.” The Barmbrack is very much a part of a traditional Irish Halloween custom that involved baking various objects or “fortunes” into the fruit bread. When the bread was cut and served, if you found one of the objects in your portion then that would tell your fortune.
So if you got a thimble in your portion of Barmbrack then spinsterhood was predicted, whereas a button (or a pea) meant you would remain a bachelor. Don’t ask me what would happen if a man got the thimble and a woman got a button. I guess either way, it pretty much that you were doomed to a future without a spouse! If you got a bean or a piece of rag then you could look forward to a life of misfortune or poverty, but a silver coin prophesied wealth. A ring meant the promise of marriage while a stick meant a quarrelsome or unhappy marriage.
The good old days of Irish Halloween seem a far cry from the modern day version of it that we know and must have been rather gloomy. Apart from the thought of souls and scary spirits wandering around, even the Barmbrack predictions weren’t particularly cheerful except for the person that got the silver coin! Luckily, the modern day bakers invariably limit themselves to baking only a ring into Barmbracks.
There are yeasted versions of this recipe as well those that use baking powder to leaven it. This is the yeasted version.
Barmbrack or Speckled Bread – Irish Halloween Fruit Bread/ Cake.